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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


In May 2002, the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) issued a report, The Immigration and Naturalization Service's Contacts With Two September 11 Terrorists: A Review of the INS's Admissions of Mohamed Atta and Marwan Alshehhi, its Processing of their Change of Status Applications, and its Efforts to Track Foreign Students in the United States. The report included our assessment of the Immigration and Naturalization Service's (INS) efforts to implement the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS), an electronic system used to track foreign students and exchange visitors. That report made recommendations to improve the process by which the INS certifies schools as eligible to accept foreign students, trains INS personnel and Designated School Officials (DSO), and monitors schools for compliance.7

In September 2002, Congress held two hearings to examine the status of SEVIS implementation.8 At these hearings, a senior INS official testified that SEVIS would be technologically available to the schools as of January 1, 2003. In his September 2002 testimony before Congress, the DOJ Inspector General questioned whether the INS would be able to certify all the necessary schools by January 30, 2003. He also expressed concerns about the INS's ability to adequately train and oversee the contractors it hired to conduct on-site reviews of schools as a part of the certification process. The senior INS official expressed confidence in the ability of the INS's contractors to complete the on-site reviews, and the INS's ability to complete its certification reviews by January 30, 2003. However, she acknowledged that the INS would not be able to complete, by January 1, 2003, all of the SEVIS training planned for INS personnel and school officials.

The purpose of this follow-up review was to assess the INS's progress in implementing SEVIS. In this review, we also examined the impact of the March 2003 transfer of INS to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) on the foreign student program and the implementation of SEVIS.

Scope and Methodology

We conducted field work for our follow-up review during January 2003. We interviewed INS headquarters officials from the Immigration Services Division, the Office of Information Resources Management, and the Office of Investigations regarding the progress of SEVIS implementation, and the impact of the transfer of the INS to the DHS on the foreign student program. To determine the progress of the INS's efforts to approve schools for access to SEVIS, we contacted INS adjudicators at ten district offices - Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Detroit, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New York City, Philadelphia, and San Francisco. We contacted INS training officers at five airports - Atlanta, Chicago, Miami, New York City, and San Francisco - to obtain information on SEVIS training for INS inspectors. We also contacted representatives from two school associations, the Association of International Educators: NAFSA, and the College Career Association, to obtain the schools' perspectives on SEVIS implementation.

The INS provided data on the number of schools that submitted applications for access to SEVIS, applications the INS processed, and on-site visits of applicant schools conducted by INS contract investigators. In addition, we reviewed a sample of 20 on-site review reports submitted by INS contract investigators to assess their completeness and adequacy.


  1. See Appendix I for a summary of the recommendations pertaining to SEVIS implementation.

  2. On September 18, 2002, the Immigration, Border Security, and Claims Subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee held a hearing on the Implementation of the Foreign Student Tracking Program by the Immigration and Naturalization Service, and on September 24, 2002, the House Subcommittees on 21st Century Competitiveness and Select Education held a hearing on Homeland Security: Tracking International Students in Higher Education - Progress & Issues Since 9-11.