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Adapted with permission from The University of Washington International Student Office (ISO).
The news media has reported extensively on how the U.S. government is seeking new and more efficient ways to manage information about international students and scholars in the United States. We have prepared this Q&A to help you understand the kinds of information that the University of Iowa (and all other colleges and universities in the U.S.) will be required to maintain and to share with the U.S. government through SEVIS. We hope you find this explanation helpful.
What is SEVIS?
SEVIS is an internet-based system that will require schools and the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) to exchange data on the status of international students and scholars. Accurate and current information will be transmitted electronically throughout an F-1 or J-1 student's academic career in the United States. U.S. embassies and consulates will also have access to SEVIS. J-1 scholars and their dependents are also included in the SEVIS reporting requirements.
Is SEVIS new?
Yes and no. The requirement that schools maintain certain information about each international student's status is not new. Most of the information that will need to be reported to SEVIS has been required by the INS for many years. But the existing paper-based system has precluded widespread coordination between schools and the INS. In 1996, Congress passed legislation directing the INS to move to an electronic data collection system. This program has come to be known as SEVIS-the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System. Technical challenges and lack of funding have delayed implementation of the program for several years. However, in October 2001, Congress passed the USA Patriot Act, authorizing additional SEVIS funding and requiring nationwide compliance by January 30, 2003.
How will SEVIS work?
After the University of Missouri-St. Louis admits an international student, SEVIS will be notified and the USCIS will approve the University's request to issue an I-20. UMSL International Student and Scholar Services (ISSS) will send the new bar-coded I-20 form to the student. The student will visit the U.S. consulate abroad, and the consulate will confirm through SEVIS that the I-20 the student is carrying is a valid document. If everything is in order, the consulate will issue the F-1 or J-1 visa. A USCIS officer at the airport will report to SEVIS the student's entry into the U.S. When the student arrives on campus, s/he will report to the ISSS, and the University will confirm through SEVIS the student's enrollment. The University must continue to provide regular electronic reports to INS throughout the student's academic career. Finally, SEVIS will record the student's departure from the United States.
What information will The University of Missouri- St. Louis required to report?
- Confirmation that a student has enrolled within 30 days, or notification of failure to enroll.
- All changes of local residential address or legal name changes
- Graduation prior to the end date listed on the I-20.
- Academic or disciplinary actions taken due to criminal conviction.
- Whether the student drops below a full course of study without prior authorization from ISSS
- Dismissal or withdrawal date, and reason for dismissal or withdrawal.
- 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 for any reason.
In what ways can a student "fail to maintain status"?
Some examples of failure to maintain status include:
- Dropping from full-time to part-time enrollment without prior approval from ISSS
- Attending a school other than the one a student is authorized to attend
- Failure to apply for a timely transfer or I-20 extension or change in level of study
- Unauthorized employment
- Failure to report a change of local address.
What are the consequences if a student fails to maintain status?
The student's record will be updated with SEVIS at specified intervals or at the time a student commits a violation of the regulations. A student who fails to maintain status loses the privileges of student status and becomes 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 ISSS, that "event" will have to be reported to USCIS, via SEVIS, that he or she is out of status. The student may apply to USCIS for reinstatement only if the violation resulted from circumstances beyond his or her control. As specified by the USCIS, acceptable reasons for applying for reinstatement include the following: "serious injury or illness, closure of the institution, or natural disaster". Students are advised that reinstatement will only be available to a few students who meet these specific requirements and that student inadvertence or oversight will not be accepted as reasons for reinstatement. For example, a student who mistakenly lets an I-20 document expire or fails to enroll within 30 days of the start of the semester will not be able to apply for reinstatement and will have their record terminated by USCIS in the SEVIS database.
Those students who fall "out of status" with the USCIS and who are ineligible for or denied reinstatement, must leave the United States, apply for a new visa at a U.S. Embassy and re-enter the U.S. in order to regain legal status and continue their studies at UMSL.
How will the UMSL help students comply with the immigration laws?
- The University will continue the commitment it has always had to helping international student prevent status violations from ever occurring. For example, F-1 and J-1 students new to UMSL will continue to be required to physically check in with the Office of International Students & Scholar Services (ISSS) prior to registering for classes. The ISSS will review each student's immigration documents, confirm to SEVIS that the student has arrived on campus, and then release the restriction on the student's registration.
- Effective January 2003, international students will also be prevented from dropping below a full course of study without prior authorization from the ISSS.
- "Full-time" means 12 credits per semester for undergraduates, and 9 credits for graduate and professional students. A student may be able to enroll for fewer hours if s/he:
a. is in the first academic year and is having difficulties with the English language or reading requirements
b. is in the first academic year and is unfamiliar with American teaching methods
c. has been advised to drop a course because of improper course level placement
d. is taking all available courses to meet graduation requirements
e. has less than a full course load required to finish the degree program this semester
f. has a medical reason for needing to be registered less than full time .
- If you are a graduate student who is conducting research, you will need to enroll in course equivalency credits to maintain full time status.
Remember: Only ISSS has authority to authorize a reduced credit load! Academic Advisers do NOT have this authority.
What would happen if UMSL failed to comply with the SEVIS regulations?
The USCIS 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 should move faster through an electronic system than through a paper system. Hopefully, the USCIS will approve applications for benefits such as Optional Practical Training much more quickly.
What should students do to prepare for SEVIS?
Read website updates from the ISSS, check your student email accounts, as we will send out messages periodically and sign up to be on the international student listserv.
Refer any questions or problems immediately to the experts in the ISSS. There is no such thing as a "stupid question" except one that wasn't asked when it should have been.
Be proactive: Plan course schedules carefully *Make travel arrangements early *Anticipate delays at consulates, airports and border crossings *Keep all documents up-to-date *Allow time for processing new forms.
You can also access more information about the SEVIS system at the following website: http://www.ice.gov/graphics/enforce/imm/imm_sevis.htm