Cite as "AILA InfoNet Doc. No. 03040445 (posted Apr. 4, 2003)"
Statement of Johnny N. Williams Interim Director for Immigration
Interior Enforcement Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement Department of
Subcommittee on Immigration, Border Security, and Claims Committee on
April 2, 2003
Mr. Chairman and Members of The Committee, thank you for the opportunity to
update the Committee on the deployment of the Bureau of Immigration and Customs
Enforcement`s (ICE) Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) - a
new Internet- based system that greatly enhances the government`s ability to
manage and monitor foreign students and exchange program visitors and their
dependents during their stay in the United States. SEVIS maintains critical,
up-to-date information that can be accessed electronically, making it a powerful
tool for combating fraud and for ensuring that individuals comply with the terms
of their visa, activities that are vital to enhancing homeland security.
State Department consular officers overseas now have instant access to this
information, improving their ability to decide whether to issue a student visa.
This information is also available to the Bureau of Customs and Border
Protection (BCBP) officers at ports-of-entry (POEs), allowing them to better
track the entry of students and exchange visitors and to guarantee that the visa
holder is the same person to whom it was issued. Additionally, personnel at
Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services (BCIS) Service Centers are using
this information to better adjudicate applications for benefits.
SEVIS was initially a project of the Immigration and Naturalization Service
(INS), where it was developed and deployed by the Immigration Services Division
(now BCIS). When INS transitioned into the Department of Homeland Security (DHS)
on March 1, responsibility for SEVIS shifted to ICE, as mandated by the Homeland
Security Act. The two bureaus are working hand-in- hand to assure a smooth
transition of the system.
The system is part of the overall Student and Exchange Visitor Program
(SEVP), the other functions of which include certifying schools for accepting
foreign students, internal and external training, fee collection, and
enforcement. SEVIS tracks information about an individual`s school admission,
visa issuance, entry into the United States, registration for classes, changes
of address, program of study, program extensions, and employment authorization.
It enables schools and exchange program sponsors to quickly update information
they are required to send to the DHS and the Department of State (DOS)
throughout the duration of a student or exchange visitor`s stay in the United
INS worked hard to meet the aggressive deadlines set forth in the statute.
SEVIS was fully deployed and operational by January 1, 2003, as required by the
USA PATRIOT Act. And, as of February 15, all DHS-approved schools and
DOS-approved exchange programs were required to use SEVIS for all new foreign
students and visitors.
The required use of SEVIS by schools and the implementation of its parent
program are both being phased in. This phased approach, which is designed to
ensure program integrity, was outlined in proposed regulations published in May
2002, highlighted in congressional testimony in the fall of 2002, and codified
in final regulations in December 2002. This approach also provides necessary and
adequate time for the schools to review the considerable existing data on their
continuing students and enter it into SEVIS. All new and continuing foreign
students and exchange visitors must be entered into the system no later than
August 1, 2003. After August 1, the database will contain complete information
on all foreign students and exchange visitors currently within the United
States, and it will be the sole system used to monitor these non-immigrants.
As mentioned earlier, the other elements of SEVP include the collection of
fees from schools, which will pay for the operation of SEVIS, and school
certification. Our fee collection proposal is now under review. ICE will
continually process requests for school certification under SEVIS. There will
always be new schools seeking certification to use SEVIS, and those already
certified must recertify every two years. As of March 19, approximately 4,300
schools (and numerous campuses for many of those schools) and 1,400 exchange
programs had been certified and were enrolled to utilize SEVIS.
Since implementation, SEVIS has performed very effectively, but it has not
been without issues. Most problems are quickly addressed and resolved. For
example, the intermittent inability of some schools to access the system and
users timing out before they could complete their desired task had occurred. In
early March, the system was taken off line for 15 minutes and the necessary
fixes were made to remedy these performance problems. Currently, the only
outstanding issue has to do with an issue known as ``bleeding,`` the unintended
merging of data from one school to another which results in the printing of
legitimate student information at the wrong institution. ICE has hired an
additional contractor specifically to address this issue, which is an issue of
privacy, not accuracy. The information in SEVIS is the important component of
the system and how that information enhances our ability to track foreign
students. Bleeding does not affect the accuracy of the foreign student
SEVIS is a new system, developed and deployed under an aggressive schedule.
Any new system will have bugs and anomalies that must be addressed. SEVIS is
supported by a team of talented and dedicated professionals, from both the
public and private sectors. Although we cannot guarantee that this new Internet
application will not have additional problems over the next year, we can assure
you that any such problems shall be addressed immediately, aggressively and
The SEVP and its SEVIS application are works in progress and will continue to
evolve. We continually examine our requirements and the educational community`s
feedback to make the system and the foreign student program sustained successes.
We believe that our interactions with the educational community are vitally
important. We have worked closely with many education associations including the
American Council on Education, NAFSA: Association of International Educators,
the National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges, and the
California Community Colleges Chancellor`s Office. In fact, we host a conference
call at least once a month with the major educational organizations to convey
information and to receive their feedback.
SEVIS is a learning process for ICE and the schools, who are being encouraged
to contact the SEVIS Help Desk should they encounter any problems accessing or
using the system. The Help Desk has been receiving more than 500 calls a day, a
third of which have to do with changing a user password. We are looking to
decrease demand on the Help Desk through greater automation which will allow our
Help Desk officers to focus on more substantive issues. We take all problems
seriously, and seek to address them aggressively.
As we move forward, we will continue to enhance internal training of DHS
officers, as well as improve the SEVIS training provided to schools. Looking
ahead to a constant two-year cycle of school certification reviews, we will be
examining the best ways to verify the bona fides of currently certified schools
and new schools seeking to use the system. Now that SEVIS is fully implemented
and all schools enrolling non-immigrant foreign students are required to utilize
the system, we will also continue to examine and re-examine methods used to
verify compliance with record-keeping, reporting, and other SEVIS
The DHS and the DOS Office of Consular Affairs have established Datashare,
under which SEVIS data are made available for verification purposes during the
visa issuance process. The program also allows State to make all non-immigrant
visa issuance data available to DHS systems. SEVIS extracts data on all the F
(academic), M (vocational), and J (exchange visitor) records from the Datashare
system, as required by statute, and also provides this information to the
SEVIS is updated at the time of an individual student`s entry to the United
States. The Enhanced Border Security and Visa Entry Reform Act (Border Security
Act) of 2002 requires schools to report foreign students who fail to enroll
within 30 days of the schools` registration deadline. Schools appoint foreign
student advisors who are required to maintain foreign student information and
assist the students and the school in adhering to the laws and regulations of
the Immigration and Nationality Act. These advisors, known as designated school
officials, are responsible for reporting student ``no shows`` to the ICE
Immigration Investigation Program Headquarters either by calling a dedicated
toll-free number or by electronically ``flagging`` the student`s record in SEVIS
as a ``no show``. More than 1,800 ``no shows`` students have been reported to
ICE through the toll-free number.
After a ``no-show`` has been reported, ICE has the Law Enforcement Support
Center run database checks. All referrals confirmed to have entered the United
States, and for which no record of departure exists, are subject to further
indices searches. Student status violators who may present a heightened security
risk are immediately referred to the ICE National Security Unit for appropriate
action. All others are being prioritized based upon other factors such as
criminal history and prior adverse immigration history, and then referred to the
appropriate field office. All student violators are entered into the National
Automated Immigration Lookout System to ensure replacement visas are not
inadvertently issued, and to ensure any subsequent attempts to enter the United
States are scrutinized. ICE is committed to enforcing our immigration laws
against violators identified through SEVIS. This is founded in our belief that
effective compliance enforcement against student violators is a critical
component of the SEVIS system.
There has been some concern in the school community that SEVIS errors have
been responsible for unwarranted enforcement actions being taken against
students. ICE can assure the public that it does not rely solely on information
in SEVIS. Prior to taking an enforcement action, ICE agents review each
individual case, including interviewing potential violators, to confirm that
action is warranted. ICE will only take action against immigration law violators
when action is warranted.
SEVIS is part of the Homeland Security mosaic. It is deployed now and in the
next year it will develop and grow as a program, increasing its ability to
manage and monitor foreign students and exchange visitors in order to ensure
that they arrive in the United States, register at the school or exchange
visitor program, and maintain their status during their stay as valued guests in
this country. SEVIS enhances our ability to detect and deter those who may come
to America for nefarious purposes, while extending a hand in friendship to those
seeking the exceptional education and training opportunities this great country
has to offer. SEVIS allows our nation to strike the proper balance between
openness to international students and exchange visitors and the necessary
security obtained by enforcing our nation`s laws.
I appreciate the opportunity to testify before the subcommittee today. I look
forward to your questions.