The news media has reported extensively on how the U.S. government is seeking more efficient ways of managing information on international students in the United States. We have prepared this handout to help you understand the kinds of information that Willamette University, and all colleges and universities in the U.S., must maintain on international students and how this information is shared with the government in a manner prescribed by law. We hope you find this explanation helpful.
What is SEVIS?
SEVIS is an internet-based system that allows schools and the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) to exchange data on the visa status of international students. Accurate and current information is transmitted electronically throughout an F-1 or J-1 student's academic career in the United States. U.S. embassies and consulates also have access to SEVIS.
Is SEVIS new?
Yes and no. The requirement that schools provide the federal government with information about each student's status is not new. SEVIS has been in place since January 2003. SEVIS was implemented to put that information into one system that many agencies and schools have access to. The old paper-based system precluded widespread coordination amongst schools and governmental agencies. In 1996, Congress passed legislation directing the INS to move to an electronic data collection system. This program would come to be known as SEVIS - the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System. Technical challenges and lack of funding delayed the program for several years. However, in October 2001, Congress passed the USA Patriot Act that authorized additional SEVIS funding and required nationwide compliance by January 30, 2003.
How does SEVIS work?
- After Willamette University admits an international student, SEVIS is notified and the USCIS approves the University's request to issue an I-20 or DS-2019. The University sends the SEVIS bar-coded form to the student.
- The student visits the U.S. consulate abroad, and the consulate confirms through SEVIS that the I-20 or DS-2019 the student is carrying is a valid document. If everything is in order, the consulate issues the visa.
- A USCIS officer at the airport reports to SEVIS the student's entry into the U.S.
- When the student arrives on campus, he/she reports to the International Education Office, and the school confirms through SEVIS the student's enrollment. The University continues to provide regular electronic reports to USCIS throughout the student's academic career.
- Finally, SEVIS records the student's departure from the United States.
What data does SEVIS collect?
WU must report:
- Whether the student has enrolled at the school, or failed to enroll.
- A change of the student or dependent's legal name or address.
- Any student who graduates prior to the end date listed on the I-20 or DS-2019.
- Academic or disciplinary actions taken due to criminal conviction.
- Whether the student drops below a full course of study without prior authorization from the PDSO. (Immigration regulations refer to international student advisers as "designated school officials". Chris Andresen is the PDSO, or Primary Designated School Official) at Willamette University.
- Termination date and reason for termination.
- Other data generated by standard procedures such as program extensions, school transfers, changes in level of study, employment authorizations, and reinstatement.
- Any student who fails to maintain status or complete his or her program.
What does "fail to maintain status" mean?
Some examples of failure to maintain status include dropping from full-time to part-time enrollment without prior approval from the PDSO, attending a school other than the one a student is authorized to attend, failure to apply for a timely transfer or extension or change in level of study, unauthorized employment, and failure to report a change of address.
What are the consequences if a student fails to maintain status?
The student's record will be updated with SEVIS every semester. Students who fail to maintain status lose the privileges of their student visa and become subject to deportation. Specific consequences may include denial of re-entry to the U.S., inability to move from undergraduate to graduate status, denial of requests for Practical Training, denial of requests to change visa status, and possible denial of all future visa applications.
Can a student who is "out of status" regain legal status?
If a student drops below a full course of study without prior approval from the PDSO, that "event" would be reported to INS, via SEVIS, and he or she would be out of status. The student may apply to USCIS for reinstatement if the violation resulted from circumstances beyond his or her control. Reinstatement is intended to be a rare benefit for exceptional cases. The student may not apply for reinstatement under any circumstances if he or she is out of status longer than five months. If INS does not reinstate the student, he or she may not appeal that decision.
How will WU help students comply with the immigration laws?
The University is committed to assist students in ways that prevent status violations from ever occurring. Accordingly, effective Spring Semester 2003, three Registration changes went into effect:
- F-1 and J-1 students new to the WU must physically check in with the Office of International Education (OIE) prior to beginning classes. We will review the student's visa documents, confirm to SEVIS that the student has arrived on campus.
- International students will not be able to drop below a full course of study after the add/drop period each semester without prior authorization from Chris Andresen, Assistant Director Int'l Education.
- Students without a current local address on file (not WU box #, but physical address of residence hall or apartment) will have holds placed on their registration, library privileges, and/or meal card points until they register with the Office of International Education. (See OIE staff if you have questions or email firstname.lastname@example.org)
"Full-time" means 3 credits per semester for undergraduates and TIUA students, and 9 credits for Atkinson graduate students, and 10 credits for Law graduate students. Acceptable reasons for reduced credit load include:
- Students who experience academic difficulties (for example, unfamiliarity with American teaching methods) may take a reduced credit load if they receive authorization from Chris Andresen, Assistant Director of International Education, PRIOR to dropping below full time.
- Students who have a medical problem can reduce their credit load or take the semester off.
Remember, only OIE staff has the authority to authorize a reduced credit load!
What happens if WU fails to comply with the SEVIS regulations?
The INS is required to audit the University's compliance with these new requirements every two years. Failure to comply with the federal regulations could result in the loss of the University's ability to accept international students.
Will SEVIS benefit students in any way?
Data moves faster through an electronic system than through a paper system. Students can expect that INS forms will be produced faster, applications for benefits such as Practical Training will be approved more quickly, and visas will be granted without the usual long delays.
What should students do to prepare for SEVIS?
- Read any email updates from the University or the International Education Office. Changes in immigration or visa procedures sometimes happen quickly.
- Understand the immigration regulations and learn how to maintain lawful status in the U.S., and refer any questions or problems immediately to the international office. The four words we hate to hear are: "But my friend said…"
- Be proactive. Students should plan their course schedules carefully so that they maintain full-time enrollment. Make travel arrangements early, and anticipate delays at consulates and border crossings. Keep all documents up-to-date.
- Changes in degree level, extensions, and travel validations must be done in a timely manner and on SEVIS documents. Allow time for processing new forms.
- Feel free to come to the International Education Office for assistance. Willamette University is a better place because you are here, and we are committed to your success!
Are there other resources about SEVIS?
The Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement is very helpful. If you have specific questions about your visa, call 375-5404, or visit us in the Matthews Center for Intercultural Learning (ground floor of Matthews Hall), Monday through Friday between 8:30 and 4:30, or send us an email.