The Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS), a response to September 11, will be in place by January 30, 2003, in the middle of the next academic year. From then on, visa-toting students will also have to present an I-20 form and detailed academic information--port and date of entry, choice of studies, and number of credits completed--that will be processed through SEVIS. An individual will not be able to receive a student visa unless the institution they are enrolled in is in compliance with the INS and the SEVIS database.
There is a precursor to SEVIS, known as CIPRIS (Coordinated Interagency Partnership Regulating International Students). CIPRIS was created in 1996, in response to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. The information required by CIPRIS is basic: the student's school, whether or not that student is attending classes regularly, and disciplinary action taken against the student.
But after 9/11, the American public freaked about students with names like Mohammed, Hashem, and Naazneen, demanding that the INS do something more to monitor foreign students. After all, the 1993 car bomber was an estranged student, as were two of the 9/11 terrorists. So wouldn't it make sense, the reasoning went, to create tracking mechanisms for student visa holders, lest a few turn out to be al Qaeda operatives? (F-1 student visas make up two percent of all visas.)
"They need to have a full background [check]--who they are and where they come from," says Larry Eichler, a Fremont Fair-goer sporting a cowboy hat with an American flag pinned to the front.
SEVIS--a program that received $36 million from the feds--will demand more info than the '96 tracking system. The INS says SEVIS will help "recognize, predict, and report trends and anomalies... to keep students in status." However, neither the INS nor local college or university representatives would tell us exactly what additional info SEVIS will require.
Steve Young, program manager of international student admissions at SCCC, has some problems with SEVIS. He questions SEVIS's effectiveness, arguing that potential terrorists disappear--they're not those quietly studying for their classes: "It seems senseless to me," he says. "The problem is not with students going to school."
Whatever SEVIS accomplishes, it will definitely chip away at Washington school budgets. With pending education cuts, these schools must come up with $45,000 to $55,000 just to install the system, as well as hire INS-approved personnel.
Last February, the University of Washington Graduate Student Senate, led by president David Nixon, complained about SEVIS to the Board of Regents. "With all the foreign students at the graduate level," Nixon says, "we wanted to know what was going on." The students opposed the proposed $95 fee foreign students were asked to pay to support SEVIS processing costs (it's since been bumped down to $80), and argued that the system creates racial profiling and could be too invasive.
The board dismissed their claim. "We don't care who they're dating," jokes Jacqueline Saloy, director of international programs at the UW. Saloy, who oversees SEVIS implementation at UW, says that SEVIS will create a speedier process. "People say, 'You're spying on us.' And we say, 'What? We've been doing this since 1996! Now it won't take four months for approvals.'"
Some Americans do feel that foreign students need a tighter leash. "There's got to be some sort of control," says Eichler back at the Fremont Fair.
Domingo Perez, a thirtysomething Fremont resident, takes a lighter approach, but agrees with Eichler that additional information and a more advanced system is key. "I don't think [the system] is too invasive if it's for safety," he says, adding, "But there's always the chance of racial profiling."