WASHINGTON — While most students were on summer holiday,staff members at universities and colleges across the country struggled to comply with the new regulations that cover the tracking and monitoring of international students and scholars.
The new rules went into effect Aug.1.
University international centers have been entering data about every international student into a new computer system called SEVIS,which stands for Student and Exchange Visitor Information System. Due to the attacks of Sept. 11,2001,the U.S government has mandated that universities gather data about international students at American universities and share it with the government.
For the first time,international students must provide their home addresses,not just their U.S. residences,and to get student visas,they have to go through face-to-face interviews with U.S. embassy staff in their home countries.
In addition,for security reasons,only a few people at each university have access to the SEVIS system because it contains so many details about each student.
“It's been a challenge. We are still in the process,” said Roberta Christie,director of the international center at Florida State University in Tallahassee.
Christie said her office coordinated efforts with other university departments to enter the data quickly and accurately. She said her office added another position to assure that everything is done properly. Consequently,she said,foreign students will start classes on time.
Deane Willis,director of the international students and scholars services at the University of Texas at Austin,said her office had to upgrade two administrative employees to make the deadline.
“It's taking so much time,but it's getting better,” said Patrice Mulholland,international outreach services coordinator at San Francisco State University. “We hired new advisers because of SEVIS.”
Mark Hallet,international students services director at Colorado State University in Fort Collins,said the software is “extremely complex and doesn't always work.”
Among the glitches,he said,was that information sometimes disappeared after it was entered into the system.
“It's been time consuming for staff and unwelcome for students and scholars,” he said.
Because of the new system,CSU is charging international students an extra fee.
Hallet also said that,because of the new visa regulations,students from Middle Eastern countries “are discouraging their friends and relatives” from enrolling in American universities in some cases and that students are afraid to go to their home countries for vacations because they fear the United States will not allow them to come back in.
He said he thinks the new regulations could cause a decrease in the number of international student applications in the short term,but in the long term,he said this will not affect the number of international students because of the quality and high standards of American universities.
Abdulbaset Abdulla,adviser to the Muslim Students Association at Ohio University in Athens,is studying for a doctorate in educational research and evaluation. He said that the association has noticed a great decrease in students from the Middle East.
“It's not like before at all,” he said. He said it is harder for students from Middle Eastern countries to obtain student visas.
“My understanding is people [are] trying to find other options,” he said. He said that students from the Middle East are considering universities in other English-speaking countries such as Australia and the United Kingdom.
“The whole attitude about coming to the United States has changed,” he said,“I think more and more people are cautious about coming here.”
Not everyone thinks SEVIS has been a problem.
Lawrence Gower,director of the international center at the University of California at Los Angeles,said that the staff had to become more proactive to make sure that international students and scholars know about the program. Although the center had to take in “a couple” of experts to gather the data,he said that the new program has not affected the center’s performance.
“It hasn't been difficult at all,” he said,adding that students should be able to get visas so they can start their classes on time. Gower said he thinks that new regulations will not affect the number of international students applications.
According to the Association for International Educators,foreign students put more than $11.95 billion in the U.S. economy in the 2001-2002 school year.
The Institute for International Education Open Doors’ 2002 report says that,in the most recent academic year for which statistics are available,2001-2002,there were 582,996 foreign students enrolled in American universities and colleges,4.3 percent of total students. The previous year,there were 547,867 foreign students,or 3.9 percent of total students.