SEVIS: The U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service's New Tracking System for International Students and Exchange Visitors
Ellen H. Badger
Introduction: This is an edited version of an article written by the author for readers of ISSS-BU, Binghamton's weekly electronic newsletter for international students and scholars. To learn more about our programs and services for international students at Binghamton, we invite you to visit our web site, http://isss.binghamton.edu
If regulations proposed last May by the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) are approved in final form, all colleges and universities in the United States will have a January 30, 2003 deadline by which to be in compliance with SEVIS, the acronym for the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System.
SEVIS (pronounced seevis) is an Internet-based system that is designed to provide federal agencies, U.S. educational institutions and exchange program sponsors with an automated means to share information about international students, exchange visitors and their dependents. The visa categories that are required to be reported into SEVIS are F-1 (student) and their dependents, M-1 (vocational student) and their dependents, and J-1 Exchange Visitors (students, scholars, researchers, professors) and their dependents.
SEVIS requires schools and program sponsors to transmit electronic information and event notifications via the Internet to the INS and the Department of State throughout a student or exchange visitor's stay in the United States. SEVIS also allows for the printing of forms I-20 and DS-2019 (formerly known as IAP-66), and provides reminders, alerts, and basic reporting capabilities.
INS began implementation of SEVIS on a voluntary basis with U.S. institutions on July 1, 2002. Under the proposed rule, participation will become mandatory by January 30, 2003.
The May 10, 2002 Department of Justice Press Release announcing SEVIS implementation contained the following quote: "In making these reforms, we remain committed to welcoming and accommodating those who come to America to study in our universities," said Attorney General John Ashcroft. "Allowing foreign students to study here is one of the ways we convey our love of freedom to foreign students who will one day return to their countries and take on leadership positions. However, we can no longer allow our hospitality to be abused."
Under the proposed SEVIS regulations, U.S. schools will be notified by the INS when a F-1 or M-1 student or J-1 exchange visitor arrives at a port of entry, and schools will be required to report to the INS if the student fails to appear for enrollment. Schools will be required to use SEVIS for the purpose of issuing I-20s and DS-2019s (formerly IAP-66s) to students and exchange visitors, and for maintaining up-to-date records on their statuses. Schools will also be required to report information to the INS via the Internet, including but not limited to change in field of study, change in level of study, change in name and/or address, change from full-time to part-time registration, failure to maintain registration each semester, and withdrawal from school.
U.S. schools will also be required to use the SEVIS system to register for certification as an INS-approved institution. Right now, it is estimated that approximately 28,000 of the 78,000 schools currently registered with the INS as authorized to issue I-20s no longer exist. The SEVIS certification process will allow for INS site visits, where necessary, to confirm that a school is, in fact, in operation. Under SEVIS, all U.S. schools will need to apply for re-certification (and pay a fee) every two years in order to maintain authorization to enroll international students. The last time the INS certified all U.S. institutions was in 1983.
Under the current paper-based system, a significant time lag exists between an event taking place,
such as a student dropping out of school, and the INS receiving the information. Under the SEVIS regulations, schools are required to notify the INS electronically of such events, providing timely information on a student's status. SEVIS will also obligate school officials to report each term whether a student is still attending.
The Department of Justice also claims that SEVIS will help to reduce visa fraud in the international student program. Under the current system, I-20s and the old IAP-66s are subject to theft and are often sold and used to support fraudulent visa applications. It is hoped that SEVIS will provide a solution to this problem by incorporating security features into the forms, canceling the unused forms and taking them out of circulation.
A Little History
Many individuals view SEVIS as an outcome of the September 11, 2001 attacks. In fact, U. S. schools have been required to collect and report data on F-1 students to the INS since the early 1980s. Reporting was done annually via a computer printout mailed by schools to their district INS office. As you might imagine, it was next to impossible for the INS to do anything meaningful with the information in that form. By 1988, the INS requested that schools cease reporting annually as there was no method available to accurately collect and store the data. Thus, no systemized reporting by schools to the INS has taken place in 14 years.
The 1993 World Trade Center bombing led to passage of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996. This law mandated the development of a tracking system for F, M and J students and scholars using available technology, and added some new reporting requirements to those that had been in effect since the early 1980s.
A pilot tracking program known as CIPRIS was developed in 1997 with a small test groups of schools in the South. The pilot program ended in 1999 when INS switched from software to web technology, and the program was renamed SEVIS.
The attacks of September 11, 2001 led to congressional legislation requiring that SEVIS be implemented and included additional data collection requirements. The subsequent passage of the Enhanced Border Security Act added still more data collection requirements.
Challenges for Schools
With more than 14 years having passed since schools had to report information on their international students to the INS, the equivalent of an entire generation of college students (and college administrators!) have no experience with a reporting "culture." During the upcoming Fall semester, colleges and universities throughout the United States will need to design informational programs so that international students and scholars will understand their responsibilities (and the potential risks and rewards) of the SEVIS system.
A second challenge, and one most schools are facing now, is the examination of internal business practices for the collection and sharing of student data, and how that data will be reported into SEVIS. For example, the individuals on college campuses with the authority to issue and sign I-20s and DS-2019s (known as Designated School Officials for the F and M programs and Responsible Officers for the J program) are required by the INS to report data into SEVIS. However, changes in a student's record that may originate in an admissions office, a Dean's office, or a Registrar's Office may not be routinely reported to Designated School Officials and Responsible Officers. At many colleges and universities, new data interfaces are currently being designed to facilitate this sharing of information, at significant cost to those institutions.
A third challenge is that the INS is mandating schools to be in compliance with a product that is not yet fully functional. As of mid-August 2002, the entire J-1 SEVIS component has yet to be released, nor has the batch process, which allows schools with relatively large international student populations to send multiple records to the INS, yet been made available for testing.
A final challenge for international student offices at U.S. colleges and universities will be to maintain a balance between serving as a liaison and advocate for international students while at the same time fulfilling institutional requirements mandated by the INS. The good news is that for the vast majority of international students and exchange visitors, SEVIS reporting will pose few problems, as experience shows that international students and scholars in general do an excellent job of complying with INS regulations. For the very tiny percentage of students who will find that certain choices have unfortunate immigration consequences, most international student offices will work closely with the affected students and their departments to come up with solutions where possible that allow the student to be in compliance with immigration law.
Much still remains to be learned about SEVIS, but our knowledge base is growing daily.
U.S. Justice Department Press Release of May 10, 2002:
INS Proposed Regulations Implementing SEVIS
U.S. Immigration & Naturalization Service SEVIS page
NAFSA: Association of International Educators - SEVIS page:
About The Author
Ellen H. Badger is the director of International Student and Scholar Services (ISSS) at Binghamton University, State University of New York. She directs programs and services for more than 900 international students and scholars.
The Office of International Student and Scholar Services has developed the following mission statement:
The key role of the ISSS is to educate and inform the international population; the University community; and local, state and federal entities of the regulations governing the enrollment of international students and scholars.
International Student and Scholar Services at Binghamton University: http://isss.binghamton.edu
The ISSS supports the University's goal to internationalize. The Office partners with other offices, departments and divisions at Binghamton University to nurture the growth of an international community and to help develop a campus environment that is responsive to their needs.
The ISSS provides a range of client-centered programs and services and is the primary resource for the international community at Binghamton University. The ISSS advocates on behalf of international students and scholars and provides programs that help them adjust to a new university, community, country and culture.
Binghamton University Home Page: http://www.binghamton.edu
The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinion of ILW.COM.
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