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Testimony of Gail Short Hanson
Vice President of Student Services
American University, Washington, DC

Before the House Committee on Education and the Workforce
Joint Subcommittee on Select Education and
Subcommittee on 21st Century Competitiveness

"Tracking International Students in Higher Education – Policy Options and
Implications for Students"

October 31, 2001

Chairmen, Members of the Committee, my name is Gail Short Hanson. I am vice president of student services at American University here in Washington, D.C. Thank you for the opportunity to speak to you today on tracking international students at American colleges and universities.

American University is a private, coeducational institution with 11,500 students. It is one of the most diverse universities in the world, with students from every state and roughly 150 foreign countries. We have 2,118 international students, speaking 41 languages. American University has been admitting international students since 1954. Our graduates return to their countries to provide leadership in government, business, law, science and technology, communication, the arts, and education.

As vice president of student services, I am in regular contact with our undergraduate and graduate international students. They are well qualified for their

studies and highly motivated. They take seriously the obligations associated with their immigration status. The overwhelming majority takes personal responsibility for maintaining their compliance with INS regulations and reporting requirements. Most return to their countries with a high level education and positive memories of their American experience. Equally important, they return with an increased understanding of American culture and an appreciation of our democratic values. They become our unofficial ambassadors.

Some members of Congress have claimed that "the foreign student visa system is one of the most under-regulated systems we have today." I would like to describe the process for enrolling international students at American University. Although the system can be improved, it is rigorous and we are diligent in implementing its requirements.

A student is required to submit a written application for admission and all required supporting documents, which include proof of language proficiency and proof of ability to meet all expenses associated with living and studying in the U.S.

An admissions officer qualified to assess legitimate foreign credentials evaluates the completed application.

If the student is admitted, a Designated School Official must determine that the student has met all of the university and INS requirements before mailing to the student the Certificate for Eligibility for Nonimmigrant (F-1) Student Status – For Academic and Language Students (Form I-20).

On receipt of Form I-20, the student must report to the nearest U.S. Consulate to apply for an F-1 Student Visa. The consular officer is

responsible for ensuring that the student has met all the requirements for non-immigrant student status before issuing the student visa.

When the student enters the U. S. through a port of entry, an Immigration officer determines whether the student has met all requirements for F-1 status. Status information is documented on the From I-20 and the I-94 Arrival/Departure record.

When the student reports to the university, the Designated School Official is required to duplicate his immigration documents and create a student record.

Within the first three weeks of each semester, American University knows which students with I-20s have enrolled and their status.

From the time of enrollment, we monitor the student’s academic progress and endorse the Form I-20 when the student makes requests for travel and employment.

Five individuals at American University have signatory authority to issue the Form I-20. They are registered with the INS through a formal registration process and receive professional training through NAFSA: Association of International Educators.

Based on many years of implementing this process with thousands of students from all over the world, we would like to suggest several steps that would facilitate government tracking of international students.

(1) American University endorses SEVIS – the Student & Exchange Visitor Information System and urges Congress to grant permanent authorization and necessary appropriations to guarantee the immediate and effective implementation of the system. We are prepared to meet the reporting requirements of the system, which include documenting student enrollment information, student’s failure to matriculate, termination, etc. We already collect and store this information in our institutional database.

(2) To address concerns about students’ obtaining Forms I-20 from multiple institutions, we endorse ACE’s recommendation that institutions forward the Form I-20 directly to the Consulate designated by the student. As an interim measure, until SEVIS is implemented, this would mitigate fraudulent use or duplication of paper documents.

(3) We suggest that INS explore developing a coded identification card to replace the Form I-20 ID and the I-94 Arrival/Departure Card. The card would be issued to the student at the port of entry and coded with the student’s information contained in SEVIS, including identification (such as date of birth and citizenship), entry and exit information, and active status. The student would carry the card for Duration of Status. When the student departs the country, the card would be swiped at the airline ticket counter and updated from the SEVIS system. The card could be voided through the system if the student falls out of status. The card would also permit the accumulation of information throughout an individual’s status as a student.

American University has worked effectively with the INS and State Department in the past and pledges continued consultation and support in their efforts to build a more efficient and effective international student tracking system. We are confident that, together, we can create a system that preserves the vitality of international educational exchange. Now, more than ever, global understanding must

be a national educational priority. American students and students from around the world must exchange ideas face to face, cultivate understanding and respect for differences, and equip themselves to overcome the conflicts that divide us today.

Thank you very much. I would be pleased to respond to any questions you may have or to provide further comment at a later date.