URBANA – The University of Illinois will be able to meet government reporting requirements for international students by the Friday deadline.
UI officials have been working this year to establish electronic records for more than 4,500 foreign students. The records report information now required by the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, an organization within the Department of Homeland Security with responsibilities including those of the former Immigration and Naturalization Service.
The organization is requiring more information about foreign students from colleges and universities, and requiring that information to be reported electronically. The information is to be reported through the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System, or SEVIS, a computerized system to track and monitor foreign students.
"By Aug. 1, we will have entered the names of all the students who we've been able to identify and communicate with," said Ivor Emmanuel, director of the UI's Office of International Student Affairs. "We're satisfied with our progress to date, and we're confident we have all the structures in place to ensure we'll meet our continuing responsibilities through the new reporting requirements. From our point of view, it's gone relatively well."
The UI began providing information to the new reporting system in March. Emmanuel's office has worked with the Division of Management Information to comply with the new rules.
The government will now require schools to report information such as failure to enroll, changes in enrollment status such as dropping below a full course-load, name or address changes, early graduation, and disciplinary action taken against a student as a result of the commission of a crime.
Emmanuel said his staff has established records for about 3,940 continuing UI students. They have also added new international students to the system as they have been admitted to the UI. And they have been tracking down foreign students who have graduated from the UI but are still in the United States for work.
All schools must be recertified by the federal immigration agency to issue the immigration document that allows students to apply for a student visa. Almost 6,000 schools have been recertified, including the UI in January.
Because the UI has such a large international student population, it will report information about the students using a "batch" process, using software to send information about students to the immigration agency.
But the agency was not ready to receive information in that way when the UI began its reporting, so Emmanuel's office entered about 800 records, one at a time, directly onto the SEVIS Web site. The information actually had to be entered twice, into the UI's database as well.
The UI began batch reporting in May. It uses a software program called FSAtlas that interacts with the SEVIS system. The UI created records using information from Emmanuel's office, students' personal biographical information, and UI Direct, the UI's online computer registration system. That information is put into the FSAtlas system, then sent to the immigration agency.
About 10 days after classes start, the UI will download the registration status of all its international students and send that information to SEVIS. It will update any changes in students' enrollment status or address every 10 days or so by downloading information from UI Direct and reporting to the immigration agency, Emmanuel said.
"It's required a substantial amount of effort on the part of the staff," he said of creating SEVIS files for UI's international students.
His office hired a staff person last year to concentrate on preparing to meet the reporting requirements, but the work has required the effort of all 10 staff members, with four people spending most of their time in the last few months on providing information to SEVIS. Emmanuel estimated the effort has cost more than $100,000 in software, hardware and staff time.
"It's taken a total team effort," he said. "It's taken a lot of hard work, dedication and many hours of overtime work on the part of the staff to accomplish this goal.
"We've done remarkably well, given we are one of the most understaffed offices among the Big Ten universities," he continued, noting his office lost one position due to budget cuts. "Given the new demands being placed on this office, we are particularly feeling the pinch of budget cuts."
Most of the work was done between January and mid-June. Emmanuel's office also had to contact students who have graduated or otherwise left the university in the last year. His staff has been trying to track down those students who didn't respond initially to efforts to reach them about the new reporting requirements. There are fewer than a dozen who still haven't been reached.
Emmanuel said many of those students work for up to 12 months following their studies.
"We have done our utmost to contact them to notify them they need to provide us information to create the SEVIS record," Emmanuel said. "It's likely those students have gone on to change their status or departed the country."
The UI also must report information about international scholars who are here. They can include visiting scholars and research scientists, post-doctoral students, visiting professors or artists, and those who come to the UI for a conference.
The UI's Office of International Faculty and Staff Affairs finished creating records for its international scholars about two weeks ago, said Carol Buss, director of the office.
"It took time, but we started early in making the transition," she said.
Buss said the UI had about 1,600 visiting scholars last year whose information must be reported. But unlike students, who generally arrive on campus in August or January, the scholars are coming and going throughout the year. The UI must monitor and report when a scholar departs or any changes in his or her funding status.
"It's a never-ending job to create new files," Buss said. "They come all year round. Every day we get requests for new ones and we have to put them in. Once they are in the system, it's pretty simple."
While the UI's compliance with the new reporting requirements has gone relatively smoothly, use of the SEVIS system has been delayed.
Universities were to be able to begin reporting information on a voluntary basis in July 2002, but the system wasn't ready to receive any data then.
The reporting requirements were originally to become mandatory on Jan. 30, 2003, but that was pushed back to Aug. 1.
Universities have reported problems accessing the SEVIS system, and Emmanuel said the immigration agency has not been readily available or able to answer questions about the system.
More than 600 schools have yet to be certified by the immigration agency, raising concerns some foreign students won't be able to enter the country.
To address the problem, the immigration agency is working with inspectors at U.S. ports of entry and sending its own representatives to international airports to try to ensure students will be able to enter the U.S. even if their schools have not met the deadline.
The determination of whether to allow a foreign student to enter the country will be made on a case-by-case basis.
You can reach Jodi Heckel at (217) 351-5216 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.