Beginning January 2003 the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) will be mandatory for all U.S. schools, colleges and universities accepting international students. The system will be in operation as early as next month.
The concept and planning for SEVIS began in 1995, after INS learned that one of the individuals involved in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing was in the U.S. on an expired student visa. But the push for an active system became a priority of INS after the September 11 terrorist attack. At least one of the September 11 participants entered the U.S. on a student visa.
SEVIS will not gather new information, but instead will enable a better sharing of information among federal groups. The system will no longer allow international students to ‘disappear’ after entering the U.S. under a student visa. School officials will be required to report to INS student arrivals, withdrawals and other changes in enrollment.
While SEVIS will enable better information sharing, many university officials are concerned that the cost will be immense. Schools with fewer than 75 international students will be able to forward information through the Internet, but larger schools will be required to purchase batching software that can cost thousands of dollars. The cost of implementing SEVIS will be significant and no federal assistance will be provided.
Officials are also concerned about data entry errors leading to students being turned away at borders. A mistake in data entry can lead to SEVIS not recognizing a valid international student.
Further, there is concern that SEVIS will give the impression that international students are not wanted in the U.S. International programs for decades have offered new perspectives to students from across the world, and have been influential in promoting both diversity within the U.S. and tolerance worldwide.