Aug. 1 marked the deadline for universities and certain high schools to register their foreign students in a new national anti-terrorism database. (See “New student tracking system launched, despite concerns”; http://www.eschoolnews.com/news/showStory.cfm?ArticleID=4254)

Federal officials say students who are not registered by the deadline still will be able to verify their status with Homeland Security Department staff stationed at major airports—but only this year.

Michael Garcia, acting director of the Bureau of Customs and Immigration Enforcement, said some students who aren’t registered by the Aug. 1 deadline could be stopped at ports of entry, but the agency wants to avoid denying entry to legitimate students.

“We don’t want to put up barriers to legitimate, bona fide students,” Garcia said. “At the same time, we have an obligation to make sure they are who they say they are.”

He said the agency will set up a 24-hour command center that will operate seven days a week to help verify students’ status or deal with other problems. Agency staff will be stationed at airports in Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Miami, Detroit, Atlanta, and Washington, facilities through which 70 percent of all foreign students enter the country.

Garcia said the agency will follow up with students who are granted entry but are not in the system.

All schools with foreign students—including high schools with foreign exchange students—must have entered the names and other identifying information of those students in the database created after the Sept. 11 attacks to track foreign students.

Although 5,937 educational institutions had complied by July 28, officials said 600 schools have yet to file their information. Many that have yet to file are religious, trade, and secondary schools, officials said.

Congress revived the Student Exchange and Information System, or SEVIS, after the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. The system was supposed to be running at the start of the year, but software glitches and other problems led to launch delays. It officially debuted Feb. 15.

Fifteen of the 19 Sept. 11 hijackers had entered the U.S. legally on travel visas. Three were admitted with business visas and one on a student visa.

The driver of the van loaded with explosives in the first World Trade Center bombing had overstayed a student visa. “There was never any check [on the bomber], and there was no system in place to do that. This system addresses those failings, failings that had a devastating effect,” Garcia said.

Thus far, slightly more than 1 million records have been entered into SEVIS. A list of 77,000 schools allowed to enroll foreign students has been whittled to approximately 7,000 as officials have begun eliminating those out of business or without foreign students, Garcia said.

Garcia said the efforts to help students at airports are a one-time-only accommodation. “This won’t be the regular way of doing business for a couple of schools that don’t have their business in order,” he said.

Some school officials fear that students could be arrested or deported because their names did not make it into the system or the information in the database was inaccurate.

Although most schools will make the Aug. 1 deadline, few will be 100 percent in compliance, said Victor Johnson, executive director of NAFSA: Association of International Educators.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if we have at least one student in each school who didn’t make it in on time,” he said.

Johnson said that although the system has improved, it continues to have problems, such as erasing data or failing to relay data to the State Department, which issues visas.

Links:

Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement
http://www.bice.immigration.gov

NAFSA
http://www.nafsa.org

SEVIS Log In Page
https://egov.immigration.gov/sevis/