New tracking system keeps tabs on foreign students and scholars
Feds impose stricter reporting requirements, deadlines on campuses

By Marie Felde, Public Affairs

29 January 2003 | Starting this week, a new federal tracking system for international students, visiting scholars, and their dependents goes into effect at Berkeley and at other colleges and universities.

The web-based federal Student and Exchange Visitor Information System, known as SEVIS, goes live nationwide on Jan. 30. The tracking system was being planned before Sept. 11, 2001, but was made more robust by the federal PATRIOT Act enacted in 2002. It requires universities to collect data for automatic reporting to U.S. immigration officials.

“SEVIS will not result in changes to a student’s educational experience,” says Ted Goode, director of Services for International Students and Scholars at Berkeley. But it does alter procedures and is far less forgiving if deadlines are missed or students and scholars fail to follow visa and other procedures. It also means new responsibilities for department administrators and college advisers.

Goode and David Leonard, dean of International and Area Studies, have been working hard to get the word out to departments and advisers, as well as to the campus’s 2,700 registered international students and as many as 3,000 visiting scholars.

“We’ve lost our flexibility to fix things at the campus level, which means there could be serious, direct consequences for students if they don’t follow procedures properly,” says Goode.

For example, international undergraduates who carry fewer than 12 units — the minimum that the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) sets for a full course load — will not be allowed to continue their studies in this country unless they receive approval in advance from the INS. Or, if a scholar’s or student’s arrival in the United States is not reported using the new tracking system, his visa could be voided and he would probably have to leave the U.S.

Even before the launch of SEVIS, foreign undergraduates were required to carry at least 12 units, and visitors were supposed to report their arrival in the U.S. But the campus, in the past, could often step in to get paperwork caught up or visas reinstated. That’s no longer possible under the new system, says Goode.

Universities are required to provide information, through SEVIS, on each international student and visiting scholar with an F, J, or M-status visa. After entering visa-application information into the system, administrators must continue to provide updates to SEVIS up through completion of studies or work assignment, or the visitor’s departure from campus.

For the first time, Goode’s office is required as well to report immigration-related activity of the children and spouses who accompany international students and scholars to campus.

The two main components of SEVIS, says Goode, are production of documents for visas and reporting to the INS and State Department various events, such as a visitor’s arrival in the U.S., change of address, and completion of a program or change in registration status.

At Berkeley, Goode’s office will be using SEVIS to report visa activity and other events for about 10,000 people, once all current international students, visiting scholars, dependents, summer-session students, and new students for next fall are brought online.

“We’ve always taken as a given that students and visiting scholars had to be responsible for following regulations. What we are doing now is asking departments and college advisors to partner with us and transmit key information to our office so that we can help everyone have as trouble-free a visit as possible,” says Goode.

The Services for International Students and Scholars’ website,, provides information on the new SEVIS tracking system and assistance for departments and visiting students and scholars.


Delayed visas make it imperative to plan ahead for foreign visitors


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