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Follow-up Review on the Immigration and Naturalization Service's Efforts to Track Foreign Students in the United States through the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System

Report Number I-2003-003
March 2003



RECOMMENDATION 1: The INS should consider whether a foreign student program manager should be appointed to coordinate, and be accountable for, immigration issues affecting foreign students.

STATUS: The INS implemented this recommendation by centralizing the responsibility for the foreign student program with the Executive Associate Commissioner for Field Operations and assigning a senior field manager to lead the program. With the transfer of the INS to the DHS, to ensure accountability over this program, this position needs to be reestablished within the Directorate of Border and Transportation Security.

RECOMMENDATION 2: The INS should review and approve all schools currently authorized to issue I-20s before allowing the schools access to SEVIS. Given the improbability that it will be completed by January 2003 (since the proposed rule change has not yet been published), the INS should decide soon on an alternative plan, including determining how it will proceed in January 2003, if schools are not re-certified, a reasonable time schedule for re-certifying the schools, and an implementation plan for achieving the timetable.

STATUS: The INS has fully complied with this recommendation. The INS is requiring all schools to reapply for approval before allowing the schools access to SEVIS.

RECOMMENDATION 3: The plan to re-certify all schools prior to implementing SEVIS must also resolve who will be responsible for conducting the re-certifications, provide adequate guidelines on conducting the re-certifications, and provide adequate training to those responsible for performing the re-certifications and making site visits.

STATUS: The INS has partially complied with this recommendation. The INS has assigned responsibility for the re-certifications to its field adjudicators. However, when the INS transfers to the DHS, the DHS will need to identify who within the Directorate of Border and Transportation Security will be responsible for responsible for the certification function. In addition, as identified in our follow-up review, the adjudicators need additional guidelines and training.

RECOMMENDATION 4: The INS should establish a unit within each district office responsible for conducting on-site verifications of the INS-approved schools. Full-time schools officers will be needed, instead of personnel who have the responsibility as a collateral duty.

STATUS: The INS did not agree with this recommendation. The INS instead decided to hire contract investigators to conduct the on-site reviews. In addition, the INS did not agree that full-time schools officers were needed, but instead sent a memorandum to its regional directors mandating that responsibility for monitoring foreign students and schools be considered a primary duty instead of a collateral duty. We continue to strongly believe that the INS needs to dedicate full-time staff to this function. In addition, our follow-up review identified deficiencies in the INS's monitoring of its contract investigators, which negatively impact the effectiveness of the on-site reviews.

RECOMMENDATION 5: The INS must continue to monitor and review the schools, since schools lose accreditation, change their objectives, and sometimes engage in fraud.

STATUS: The INS agreed with this recommendation and stated that the monitoring process will consist of requiring schools to undergo re-certification reviews, including on-site reviews, every two years. The INS has not yet issued the rules pertaining to the re-certification reviews.

RECOMMENDATION 6: The INS should ensure that audits are conducted of approved schools to determine whether proper internal controls are in place and that data is being entered into SEVIS completely, accurately, and timely.

STATUS: The INS agreed with this recommendation and stated that the primary audit mechanism would be the on-site reviews by the contract investigators. The INS also plans to identify the need for additional audits through analysis of SEVIS data. We do not believe that the on-site reviews conducted by contract investigators will be sufficient to identify internal control weaknesses or to ensure the integrity of the SEVIS data. In addition, although the INS has hired contractors to analyze SEVIS data and identify anomalies, it has not yet established a mechanism for following up on these anomalies.

RECOMMENDATION 7: The INS should decide what office or division will be responsible for analyzing the data that is collected in SEVIS. To fully use SEVIS's capabilities, the INS needs to assign personnel and establish policies and procedures to take advantage of this analytic function.

STATUS: To implement this recommendation, the INS established an analytic unit, staffed by contract personnel, to identify data anomalies, that may indicate fraud or noncompliance. While we believe this is a good first step, the INS still needs to identify how it will follow-up on the anomalies identified through the analytic reviews.

RECOMMENDATION 8: To ensure that adequate personnel are available to devote to re-certifying and monitoring INS-approved schools and foreign students, the INS should establish fee-paid positions funded out of the processing fee that will eventually be charged to foreign students.

STATUS: The INS agreed with our recommendation and, in May 2002, hired a contract firm to perform a fee study. Included in the proposed costs were 46 INS district officer positions. The proposed fee rule has not yet been published.

RECOMMENDATION 9: The INS must also develop a plan for training both INS employees and school employees on how to use SEVIS. The INS should develop a timetable for implementing training and an implementation plan for carrying out the training.

STATUS: The INS has partially complied with this recommendation. In June and August 2002, the INS provided training to its adjudicators. In our follow-up review, however, we determined that additional training is needed. In addition, the transfer of the INS to the DHS also will result in the transfer of adjudication responsibilities, which will necessitate additional training. The INS has not yet completed training its inspectors at the ports of entry in how to use SEVIS. However, the INS has taken sufficient steps to ensure school employees are aware of SEVIS requirements. The INS is still considering whether to initiate a DSO certification program. We support this initiative, which would require DSOs to complete an on-line training module before being provided access to SEVIS.

RECOMMENDATION 10: SEVIS cannot work unless the necessary offices and personnel are connected to SEVIS, including service centers, POEs, district offices, and consular posts. The INS should devote the resources necessary to ensure that all offices are connected to and are able to use SEVIS as quickly as possible.

STATUS: The INS has complied with this recommendation.