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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

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INS To Centralize, Share All Foreign Student Information

UMass Boston is on schedule with most other universities in the U.S. to enter an Immigration and Naturalization Services (INS) program that will collect and share all foreign student data between federal agencies and universities on one website. The program, known as the Student Exchange and Visitor Information Service (SEVIS), will track all students with I-20 certificates and F, M, and J visas from their entrance into the country through their school careers.

The SEVIS program will enable federal authorities from agencies within the Department of Justice, which operates the INS, and the State department, to instantly access information submitted by foreign students. This will expedite the processing of visa information.

UMB Coordinator of International Student Services Michael Mahan informs the Mass Media that putting the system into operation will be a “huge, huge, headache” but he thinks the new system “will be a positive thing once it’s in place.” It will make students easier to report when they enter the U.S. “Right now a student gets an admission number when they enter the country. The INS enters the number to their data collection center in Kentucky. It can take months before we get the paperwork back.” Mr. Mahan also expects the new program will be hurried along by the events on 9/11, “My sense is that [the SEVIS program] will be fast-tracked and funding appropriated because of Sept. 11; it’s a hot issue.”

One of the suspects aboard the hijacked planes had apparently entered the country on a student visa, and there is pressure in Congress to keep closer track of all foreign nationals, including students, in the country. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-California) has called for a six-month moratorium on new students entering the U.S. This has sparked an outcry from academic communities and raised the specter of unfair treatment or singling out of foreign students.

Information that will be required from foreign students that is not currently collected includes: their current address, both their current visa and academic status, and their criminal history if it pertains to their academic record.

The new program is a result of the 1996 Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA). The IIRIRA called for the creation and implementation of a program that could track foreign students in a more rigorous fashion. Controversy over the funding of the Coordianted Interagency Project Regulating International Students and Scholars (CIPRIS) system was swift and heated; the IIRIRA put the responsibility for collecting the funding (set at $95 per student) on universities and schools, but this was later changed to be collected directly by the federal government before the student entered the country (at the airport, for instance, or an U.S. embassy). Restrictions limit fees to $40US on young foreign nationals who enter the U.S. in work or travel exchange programs, (au pairs, camp counselors, summer workers)

The program has already been piloted in the Southeast United States, known as CIPRIS. CIPRIS was the pilot program for SEVIS, which included airports and government agencies in Alabama and 21 schools throughout the Southeast. It ran from 1998-1999. Currently, a beta test of the improved SEVIS program is operating at eight schools in the Boston area.