GW’s transfer to a government-mandated international student tracking system this fall has been relatively flawless, University officials said.
Since August, all universities with foreign student populations have used the federal electronic tracking system SEVIS to ensure students are abiding by the terms of their student visas.
Congress mandated the creation of SEVIS in response to the September 11 attacks in which at least one of the hijackers was visiting the United States using an invalid student visa. The new system centralizes students’ information in its online database and is more strictly monitored by the Homeland Security Department.
GW’s international students experienced few problems abiding by SEVIS’s terms, said Susan D’Amico, GW’s associate director of International Services.
Officials in GW’s Office of Admissions said SEVIS mainly changed clerical procedures and that the system has not impacted recruitment.
The University received 72 international freshmen in the fall of 2002 and 71 in fall 2003, said director of international recruitment Toulan Waters, adding that application numbers were comparable.
Waters said GW experienced minimal technical problems with SEVIS, which she called “fairly typical.”
The International Service Office has been sending international students e-mails since last semester about the change.
Taiwanese graduate student Jane Chang said she received an e-mail this fall but is not well-informed enough about SEVIS.
When Kuwaiti freshman Anita Sharma was asked about SEVIS she said she wasn’t sure what the system was.
But D’Amico said it may be positive that students aren’t noticing the change and that ISO has made efforts to inform students.
ISO sent a “detailed handout” to its international students in March and has followed up with e-mails and newsletters that remind students about important dates and requirements and to update information, D’Amico said.
“It could be that the students aren’t feeling the impact as much as the schools,” D’Amico said. “Most students are very conscientious about complying with the requirements of their visa. Those who follow the rules should not feel much of an impact.”
SEVIS mainly focuses on tracking students’ employment, identification and fulltime enrollment, and students must report changes in residency within 10 days of moving. The system keeps personal information about international students including addresses, phone numbers and courses of study.
Sharma said she thinks it is somewhat “unfair” that foreign students are profiled in the database and American students are not, but she said she understands the need for the system.
“Just because we are international does not mean that we are any more suspicious than anyone else,” Sharma said. “At the same time, it’s probably an unavoidable system because of what has happened since September 11.”
Chang said she does not think SEVIS’s inquiries invade her privacy.
“I would say it’s OK because I think that the American government has the right to keep information about immigrants,” she said.
All institutions authorized to enroll a foreign student population were required to be certified to begin using SEVIS no later than Jan. 30. Approved institutions were required to have all continuing students entered into SEVIS by Aug. 1.
As of July 29, GW and 6,454 other schools had complied with the deadline and 1,042 schools had yet to file their applications. The schools that failed to meet the deadline could not enroll or sponsor their foreign students to enter the country.
SEVIS spokesman Gillie Haynes said there were some exceptions to the deadline according to a “case-by-case” evaluation.
“Every opportunity was made to help them gain entry into the United States in the interest of pursuing an education,” Haynes said.
Some universities, including the University of Southern California, reported problems entering information for large international student bodies.
Dixon Johnson, executive director of the Office of International Services at USC, said SEVIS was not equipped for schools with large foreign populations. USC enrolls more than 5,000 international students.
“The technical problems that we had were due to the mindset of the federal government that ‘one size fits all,'” Johnson said.
D’Amico said SEVIS provides two ways to load information onto the system – manually entering each student’s information or “batch reporting,” which is more appropriate for institutions with large populations such as USC and GW.
She said it’s taking time to perfect SEVIS’s batch reporting capabilities and that SEVIS is still an “evolving” system.
“It’s a federal statutory requirement, not a choice,” D’Amico said. “The approach is to make it as efficient as possible.”
-Andrea Nurko contributed to this report.