GW will comply with a new national tracking system that keeps personal information on foreign students studying in the United States. Though Immigration and Naturalization Services said students’ study experiences will remain the same, some international students said they believe the program violates personal liberties.
GW submitted its application materials late last year in order to meet this Friday’s deadline, said Mike Hernandez, GW’s project manager for the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System.
The program uses a secure government Web site to centralize data on international students including names, addresses, class attendance records and work authorizations. Though the INS could obtain information on international students, the previously vague policy was not strictly enforced.
Hernandez said more than 2,000 GW international students will be affected. Their information is required to be entered into the database by August 2003. More than 3,000 schools already registered, but about 1,700 were in the process of finishing their applications last week, according to The Washington Post.
All universities with international exchange student programs must be approved by SEVIS, which the INS implemented following the September 11 attacks. At least one of the hijackers was in the United States on an expired student visa. If universities do not comply with the deadline, which the INS pushed back from Jan. 31, they cannot host students in the U.S. on visas.
“Although it (was) slow going, we are seeing clear improvements being made every week and are confident that the system will prove successful,” Hernandez said.
With more than 3,000 missing international students in the country, SEVIS is the first system to make quick and accurate information available to authorized officials. If a student fails to enroll or register for classes at GW, regulations require the University to report the problem to the INS.
Until implementation of SEVIS last month, the INS relied on the postal system and handwritten or typed documents to trace international students.
Hernandez called the system a “new and very different environment.”
Although officials said the program is more advanced than its predecessor, INS spokesperson Chris Bentley said, “students aren’t going to notice a difference.”
“They’re still going to be able to come to the United States to study,” Bentley said. “(SEVIS) means that the INS will have its fingertips on information about all foreign students in the U.S.”
However, master’s candidate Jungin Lee, who is from Korea, said she often feels uncomfortable as an international student and thinks the policy will concern students.
“It’s private (information),” Lee said. “We have a lot of limitations and have to follow a lot of regulations. Sometimes it’s too strict.”
Bentley said ties between universities and the INS are integral to making the system work.
“It’s incumbent upon the schools, as a partner with the INS, to get in touch with the INS and with our help desk and let us know if they encounter something that’s not working well,” Bentley said.
SEVIS will need to be updated every semester, when there are changes in student travel, residence and graduation.
-Julie Gordon contributed to this report.