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Homeland Security

01 August 2003

Immigration Bureau Prepares to Help Arriving Foreign Students

New registration requirements could cause problems

The U.S. Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is opening an around-the-clock command center August 1 to help ease the entry of foreign students arriving in the United States for a new academic term.

A new data-sharing system is being implemented, requiring educational institutions to electronically provide information to ICE about the students they have accepted and enrolled in the new semester. Called the Student Exchange Visitor and Information System (SEVIS), it will be the primary data source immigration officers will rely upon at ports of entry to determine whether a foreign student is eligible to enter the country.

ICE reported in a July 29 press release that more than 5,900 educational institutions have gone online with SEVIS, but more than 600 U.S. schools have not done so. There is concern in the academic community that students entering non-compliant schools could encounter difficulty entering the country.

ICE has opened the command center to help deal with those problems. The agency has sent guidance to U.S. ports of entry providing specific instruction on how to deal with a variety of situations that could arise with foreign students. ICE will also be prepared to provide information technology assistance to educational institutions having technical problems with the complex data-sharing system.

The following is the text of the July 29 press release:

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July 29, 2003

New steps to help legitimate foreign students while preserving security

WASHINGTON, DC - The Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) today announced that it is taking new steps to help law-abiding foreign students, as well as U.S. educational institutions, comply with the August 1, 2003 filing deadline for the Student Exchange Visitor and Information System (SEVIS).

SEVIS is a government, computerized system that maintains and manages data about foreign students and exchange visitors during their stay in this country. For more than 50 years, U.S. educational institutions have been required to maintain such information about foreign students studying at their facilities. In the past, this was a decentralized, inefficient, and paper-driven system. SEVIS, for the first time, automates and centralizes this system. SEVIS allows for real-time access to this information and helps students comply with the terms of their visas.

Congress mandated that August 1, 2003 be the deadline for U.S. educational institutions with a foreign student population to be certified participants in SEVIS and have information about these current foreign students entered into SEVIS. To date, 5,937 U.S. schools have complied with this deadline and become SEVIS-certified, enabling them to accept foreign students. ICE applauds these schools for meeting this deadline.

However, there are still more than 600 U.S. schools that have yet to file applications, or have filed applications late in the process and therefore may not meet the deadline. Because of late filings by these schools, there is concern that foreign students attending schools that have failed to meet the SEVIS deadline will be denied entry into the United States. All foreign students entering this country after August 1, 2003 are supposed to be registered in SEVIS by their schools.

To help alleviate this situation, ICE is taking several new steps to ensure that law-abiding foreign students enrolled at U.S. educational institutions will be able to enter this country and study at these schools, even if their school failed to meet the SEVIS deadline.

However, these steps represent a one-time accommodation. Discretion will only be granted to impacted foreign students on a case-by-case basis, after careful review and up to the point where national security may be impacted.

Among the steps that ICE is taking to address this issue is:

--ICE is staffing a command center that will be fully operational 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week on August 1. ICE officers at this center will coordinate with schools across the nation. They will also work closely with Department of Homeland Security inspectors at U.S. Ports of Entry in addressing those impacted foreign students entering the country.

--ICE is sending written guidance to Department of Homeland Security inspectors at U.S. Ports of Entry in order to address each possible incoming foreign student scenario. These inspectors are encouraged to contact the ICE command center at any time with questions.

--ICE is deploying its own representatives to those international airports around the country that account for more than 70 percent of all foreign students entering the United States. These airports are located in Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Miami, Detroit, Atlanta, and Washington, D.C. The ICE representatives will provide assistance to local Homeland Security inspectors in addressing each incoming student scenario.

--Notices have already been sent to U.S. educational institutions across the country outlining the many issues that ICE anticipates arising on August 1 and detailing ICE's specific mechanisms for addressing these issues.

--ICE will also have technical and IT consultants on stand-by to address any SEVIS computer systems issues that may arise.

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(Distributed by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site:

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