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INS aims to better track foreign students

INS aims to better track foreign students

From Terry Frieden
CNN Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A new system will help schools and the government keep closer track of the more than 1 million foreign students attending U.S. colleges and trade schools, Attorney General John Ashcroft announced Friday.

"The United States of America will not allow our welcome to be abused by those who disguise themselves and their intentions," Ashcroft said at a news conference called to announce the new regulations.

"Schools will be accountable for confirming the status of student visa holders, the INS will be accountable for enforcing violations of that status, and the American people will gain a measure of assurance that students visiting our country are who they purport to be," Ashcroft said.

The new Internet-based system, dubbed the Student Exchange and Visitor Information System (SEVIS), has been under development by the INS for several years under a law passed by Congress in the mid 1990s. But its development took on new urgency after the September 11 attacks.

September 11 and student visas

Since then, lawyers with the Immigration and Naturalization Service and Justice Department have been working on ways to spot terrorists who may use U.S. schools to enter the United States.

At least one of the September 11 terrorists entered the United States on a student visa. Two others entered on visitor visas and then applied for student visas.

Last month, a Florida aviation school received a letter granting students visas to the two terrorists -- exactly six months to the day after Mohamed Atta and Marwan Al-Shehhi flew planes into the World Trade Center.

The new computer system will provide the government, schools and exchange programs a way to immediately exchange information about foreign students, exchange visitors and their dependents.

The Justice Department said the new system will be in operation by July, and its use by all schools will be mandatory by next January.

Ashcroft said the current paper-based system is slow, not readily accessible when needed, and fails to contain information on the status of visiting students.

24 hours to report changes

Under the new regulation, INS ports of entry and U.S. consulates will be linked via the Internet with the thousands of institutions of higher learning and trade schools which accept students from abroad.

If a student drops out, fails to show up, or is disciplined for criminal behavior, the school will be required to notify the INS within 24 hours.

Start dates for the visitor's new term, any change of name and address -- even dropping below a full course load -- also must be reported to the INS.

Students will have only 30 days to arrive at their school after entering the United States. Previously they were allowed 180 days.

INS says it will be able to better monitor each school's compliance with its obligations under the program, and it will take action against schools that do not comply with the rules.

Following last fall's attacks, many U.S. institutions of higher learning reassessed their previous views about student privacy and government intrusion.

"We developed this rule in consultation with representatives of our colleges and universities and we appreciate their valuable contribution and cooperation," Ashcroft said.




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