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Uncle Sam to look over students' shoulders

Raja Simhan T.E.

CHENNAI, June 6

INDIAN students planning to pursue academic interests in the US should be prepared for some tough monitoring by the US Government.

As part of an ongoing effort to enhance the United States' Homeland Security, the Justice Department recently proposed a new rule to implement significant changes by which information about foreign students and exchange visitors is retained and reported. The new measure also assumes significance following the September 11 attacks in the US.

The proposed rule will implement the usage of the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS), an Internet-based system providing the government, educational institutions and exchange programmes an automated means to exchange timely information about foreign students, exchange visitors and their dependents - during their stay in the country. The rule will specify that schools use SEVIS to issue documentation to students and report pertinent information to the US Immigration and Naturalisation Service (INS). SEVIS is a joint venture between the INS, the Department of State, and the Department of Education.

The new regulations require schools to collect and report information on foreign students to the INS. The data that must be reported includes: A student's enrolment at the school, the start date of the student's next term or session, a student's failure to enrol, a student dropping below a full course of study without prior authorisation, any other failure to maintain status or complete the programme and a change of the student's or dependent's legal name or address.

Further, any disciplinary action taken by the school against the student as a result of the student being convicted of a crime; and a student's graduation prior to the programme end date listed on the form should be reported to the INS, says information available on the INS Web site.

For India, the new rule is quite significant considering the fact that every year around 50,000 students go to the US for higher studies. China, Japan and South Korea are other countries which send such a large number of students, says the Institute of International Education.

According to information available in the INS Web site, SEVIS would be implemented on a voluntary basis with institutions of learning on July 1, 2002, and participation will become mandatory by January 30, 2003.

In the US, the spring semester starts in January, while the fall semester in August. SEVIS would allow INS to have a better control and manage those foreign students and exchange visitors who wish to continue their educations in the US. Using the Net, it also increases the accuracy of the information between the INS and the educational institutions, says the site.

The programme was previously referred to as the Coordinated Interagency Partnership Regulating International Students (CIPRIS), which tested the concept associated with new data collection and reporting methods.

Information obtained from this pilot system was incorporated into the national system development effort that resulted in SEVIS, says the INS.

The Immigration and Nationality Act of the US provides two non-immigrant visa categories for persons wishing to study in the US.

The `F' visa is reserved for non-immigrants wishing to pursue academic studies and/or language training programs, and the `M' visa is reserved for non-immigrants wishing to pursue non-academic or vocational studies.

"In making these reforms, we remain committed to welcoming and accommodating those who come to America to study in our universities," the Attorney-General, Mr John Ashcroft, has been quoted in the INS site.

"Allowing foreign students to study here is one of the ways we convey our love of freedom to foreign students who will one day return to their countries and take on leadership positions. However, we can no longer allow our hospitality to be abused."

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