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Tracking International Students and Exchange Visitors Online

While the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) has been slowly moving toward an “e-government” module with visa processing, the automated tracking and monitoring system of international students and exchange visitors is just about completed. The USA PATRIOT Act, enacted in October 2001, has dramatically expedited the implementation of the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS), which has been in the works since 1996 but has consistently been pushed back. The USA PATRIOT Act mandates that SEVIS must be in place and implemented prior to January 2003. However, initial testing of the system is projected to be ahead of schedule and begin this July.

SEVIS, formerly called CIPRIS, is an interactive web-based INS system that will track and monitor non-immigrant students (F and M visas), exchange visitors (J visa) and their dependents (J-2, M-2 and J-2 visas) at U.S. colleges and universities. SEVIS enables U.S. higher education institutions to electronically transmit a variety of current information about the international students and exchange visitors via the Internet to the INS and Department of State.

There were over 31 million non-immigrant visas issued during Fiscal Year (FY) 1999. Of the 31 million, 567,146 were foreign students at U.S. colleges and universities, and 275,519 were exchange visitors. With the SEVIS tracking system, the INS and higher education institutions will be able to determine if a student does not enroll in school, and for the first time ever, the INS would know how many foreign students attended classes.

The implementation of the web-based student tracking system demonstrates the INS’ first step toward automation for tracking purposes, as well as possible visa processing. The success of SEVIS will be closely scrutinized to benchmark future Information Technology efforts within the INS. This could be the first step in the direction of applying for and processing immigrant and non-immigrant visas online at the INS.

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