Jan 30 Is INS Student Deadline

December 10, 2002
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GRAND RAPIDS — One of the agencies now comprising the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has brought forth a new acronym — SEVIS — and set Jan. 30 as a deadline for its implementation.

SEVIS stands for Student and Exchange Visitor Information System and concerns all foreign students and faculty studying or teaching on U.S. college and university campuses.

Under SEVIS, all colleges and universities are required to track and report to the Immigration and Naturalization Service 19 documents for undergraduate and graduate students, researchers and professors who are foreign nationals.

The material concerns a range of questions concerning whether the foreign national has full-time academic status to whether any of them has changed his or her major.

Reportedly, the information will go into the SEVIS database and, from that point, be used to monitor visitors.

According to Calvin College — which says it already has complied with the requirement — the data is forwarded to INS electronically.

SEVIS is a federal government response to learning that — prior to the attack that destroyed the World Trade Center — INS had no mechanism to track foreign students once they entered the country or to even know whether they still were in the country.

Several of the attack’s perpetrators were former or current students at flying schools. Some of them had entered, left and re-entered the country prior to the attack.

Calvin advises that it reported about 330 international students among its 4,300 undergrads.  Todd Dornbos, the school's associate registrar, said that number includes about 180 Canadians and another 150 students from A to Z among the nations of the world: literally, from Australia to Zimbabwe.

He said Calvin has to meet the SEVIS because of its special term in January.

‘Calvin has an interim term in January,” he explained, “which means our second semester starts after the Jan. 30 deadline, so we needed to be in full compliance for second semester.  A lot of schools start their second semester before Jan. 30, which gives them the luxury of not having to be in full compliance until the fall semester.  So our timetable here is a quick one.”

Dornbos says the ramifications of the new system are significant.  One article he read cited the example of a student who drops a course on a Friday, intending to add one later.

The drop, however, puts the student below full-time status and that information gets transmitted to SEVIS. 

“The student, who now is considered “out of status,” travels to Canada for the weekend — a distinct possibility, for example, at Calvin — and tries to reenter the U.S. on Sunday night.  Since ports of entry have access to SEVIS data, the student may not be able to enter the U.S.

“A fictional example like that hits close to home at Calvin. Obviously we want to have everything in order so that we understand the system and make sure nothing like that happens. We want to ensure that international students remain a valued and integral part of our campus.”

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