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Universities Near SEVIS Deadline

By Beckett W. Sterner


Several of MIT’s peer universities have said that they will only report the minimum required by the government for the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System. The Institute has vowed to follow a similar policy.

The deadline for bringing SEVIS online has been delayed to Feb. 15 to accommodate difficulties for both universities and the federal government.

Although universities could begin using SEVIS as early as Jan. 1, an Immigrant and Naturalization Service press release stated that “in order to accommodate schools and exchange visitor programs that are new users of SEVIS, the INS has decided to grant a grace period, until Feb. 15.”

The original deadline for certification to use SEVIS was Jan 30, at which point all new students and visa requests would have to be submitted online.

Reporting minimum is common

Both Washington University in St. Louis and Stanford University will report only the minimum information required by the government, said Directors of the Office for International Students and Scholars Kathy Steiner-Lang and John Pierce, respectively.

Stanford will “absolutely not” report details such as changes in classes or small disciplinary events like library fines. This information “was not requested” in the federal guidelines, Pierce said. While being suspended for cheating, for example, might affect immigration status, it would not be reported through SEVIS, he said.

Steiner-Lang noted that there was “some discrepancy with what [the SEVIS] help desk said and the regulations” require be reported. She emphasized only disciplinary actions resulting from criminal convictions are required to be reported.

Dean of Graduate Students Isaac M. Colbert has previously said that MIT would report only severe disciplinary problems and only basic registration information. Library fines, for instance, will only matter if they hold up registration, he said.

MIT will “have to review those circumstances that lead to registration status to take into account that registration holds have a very significant effect on international students,” Colbert said.

Schools prepared for deadline

MIT was ready for the original deadline, Colbert said. “We started well ahead of time,” he said. “We have the staffing there to make sure that we can comply.”

Colbert said that “at the Washington end [of SEVIS] they’re not quite there yet.” Currently, MIT is capable of submitting the data for individual students one by one or in a batch mode, Colbert said, but the government is not ready to receive files in large groups.

They are “overwhelmed over in Washington and they have an incentive to be reasonable” about delays and bugs in the system, he said.

The process “was time-consuming,” and had “its ups and downs” because of changes made by the government, Steiner-Lang said.

She said Washington University had been ready for SEVIS long before the original government deadline of Jan. 30.

Currently, the university offices in charge of SEVIS are entering student data as new students are admitted or as current ones need to enter or leave the country.

Eventually, following the federal deadline, the universities must send the student data for all current international students through SEVIS by Aug. 1.