INS Gives Colleges 2-Week Grace Period on Deadline for Using Database to Track Foreign Students

By MICHAEL ARNONE

January 29, 2003

The U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service decided on Wednesday to give colleges two more weeks before they must start using the agency's database to monitor and track foreign students. Colleges can now use current visa forms until February 15, the new date on which they have to use the Student Exchange Visitor Information System, or Sevis.

The grace period acknowledges that colleges are having real difficulties using the system, said an INS official who asked to remain anonymous. The agency still encourages colleges to use Sevis from today onward but will allow them to issue paper forms if they have trouble with the system. "We don't want them to be under too much stress," the official said. Colleges must be approved to use Sevis if they want to enroll foreign students. After February 15, the INS will accept only Sevis versions of visa forms.

The INS promised last fall to approve by January 30, the previous deadline, all colleges that had signed up for Sevis by November 15. The agency expects to make good on that promise, the INS official said. "We don't want to put any schools or students in a position where they're forced to do something and they can't." The agency's wish to limit frustration for colleges comes a bit late for many institutions, especially those with large numbers of foreign students. Many institutions that met the November 15 date were still waiting to hear Wednesday whether or not they were approved to use the system.

At a Sevis conference co-sponsored this week in Boston by the INS, many college officials complained about technical roadblocks and interminable delays -- up to six hours to make a single entry -- in their attempts to use the system. All but a handful of institutions are also waiting for the agency's permission to use "batch processing," which enables colleges to send student data electronically in bulk instead of keying it in by hand. The delay is good news, said Victor C. Johnson, associate executive director for public policy at Nafsa Association of International Educators. "It's a recognition of the fact that schools that are currently enrolled in Sevis are finding it impossible to use."

The INS plans only this one delay, the official said.