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
SEVIS IS NOT FULLY IMPLEMENTED
This review found that the INS has made significant progress in implementing SEVIS. The INS is requiring previously approved schools to reapply and non-accredited vocational, language, and flight schools to undergo on-site reviews prior to providing them access to SEVIS. In addition, all INS offices and Department of State consular posts can access SEVIS.
However, despite this progress, we believe that the INS has not yet fully implemented SEVIS. INS management makes a distinction between implementing the system and implementing the foreign student program, and therefore continues to assert that it met the January 1, 2003, mandated deadline because the system was technically available as of this date. However, as stated in the Inspector General's September 2002 testimony, we do not believe that system implementation can be viewed separately from program implementation. For SEVIS to be effective, it is essential to ensure that the foreign student data contained in the system is complete, accurate, and timely, and that only bona fide schools are gaining access to SEVIS. In addition, processes must be in place to identify and follow-up on possible fraud in the foreign student program. Without having the program elements in place, there is no assurance that the data in SEVIS is reliable and that fraudulent schools are not being provided access to SEVIS. These program elements are discussed in detail in subsequent sections of this report.
In addition, SEVIS will not be fully functional as a monitoring system until August 1, 2003, when its database will contain complete information on all foreign students currently attending United States schools and when it will be the sole system used to monitor foreign students. Until then, the INS will continue to use its paper-based STSC system to monitor continuing foreign students who have non-SEVIS I-20s. INS inspectors at the ports of entry will continue to send a copy of the non-SEVIS I-20 forms to the INS contracting facility in London, Kentucky, for data entry into STSC. In addition, schools that have foreign students, but that have not been re-certified, can continue to operate until August 1, 2003, as long as they do not accept new students.
SCHOOLS NOT APPROVED TIMELY FOR ACCESS TO SEVIS
The INS established a mandatory implementation date of January 30, 2003, by which all schools were required to issue SEVIS I-20s to their new students. The INS also guaranteed that it would process, by January 30, 2003, all I-17 applications submitted by November 15, 2002. As shown in Table 1, the INS was not able to honor its commitment. As of January 30, 2003, it had processed only 1,963 (69 percent) of the 2,856 applications that had been submitted between September 25, 2002, and November 15, 2002.
Table 1: SEVIS Certification Workload Statistics as of January 30, 2003
|July 1, 2002 to September 24, 2002||1,779||1,418||361||0|
|September 25, 2002 to November 15, 2002||2,856||1,927||36||893|
|November 16, 2002 to January 30, 2003||1,305||0||0||1,305|
Note: According to the INS, the majority of the denials during the period July 1, 2002, to September 24, 2002, were for schools that did not meet the criteria for the preliminary enrollment period. These schools may have reapplied and been approved after September 24, 2002.
Because of the application backlog, the INS exercised its option to allow conditional enrollment in SEVIS for accredited schools and public secondary schools prior to the required on-site reviews.17 This allowed the INS to approve these schools without first requiring an on-site review. The INS did not make this decision until the end of January 2003, although it was aware of one of the contract firm's delays in conducting the on-site reviews at the end of December 2002. The INS is requiring all schools to issue SEVIS I-20s to new students accepted after February 15, 2003. After this date, schools need to wait for the INS's approval before accepting any new foreign students.
Insufficient Staffing to Process SEVIS Applications
We found in our original review that the INS assigned responsibility for certifying and monitoring schools to field office staff as a part-time, collateral duty. INS staff spent minimal time monitoring schools; as a result, some schools that had ceased their operations or that no longer met INS eligibility requirements issued I-20s fraudulently to aliens, allowing them to enter the United States. To improve the monitoring of schools, we recommended that the INS establish a dedicated unit within each field office to focus on the student and schools function. The INS did not agree that full-time personnel were necessary.
Consequently, INS headquarters officials did not identify the specific resources needed to ensure that schools would be approved for access to SEVIS in a timely manner. Instead, the INS directed its field office managers to devote sufficient resources to perform these certifications. A September 19, 2002, memorandum from the INS's Executive Associate Commissioner for Field Operations to the INS regional directors stated:
It is mandatory that the field officers assigned to Student/Schools responsibilities be given sufficient time to accomplish these [certification] tasks…Once the full certification program begins, Student/Schools responsibilities are to be the primary focus of the assigned officers, with other duties being secondary. However, this is not to imply that all Student/Schools officers will need 40 hours per week to accomplish the tasks, nor that there may not be a need to devote more than one officer to this task.
Despite the directive, we found that the program continued to be insufficiently staffed. At six of the ten districts we contacted, only one adjudicator had been assigned responsibility for performing the certifications of schools applying for SEVIS access. And at only four of these six locations was this the full-time responsibility for the adjudicator. Most adjudicators we spoke to commented that the problem was not that management did not consider SEVIS a priority, but that there were too many priorities and not enough staff. At six locations, SEVIS adjudicators also were responsible for other programs, such as the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) program and the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS). At one district office the sole SEVIS adjudicator stated that he was told specifically by management that SEVIS was not his priority. In a January 17, 2003, letter to the INS, one of the school associations stated that some schools were told by their district offices that their main priority was NSEERS.
We also found that at five of the INS district offices we contacted the INS had assigned primary responsibility for performing the school certifications to personnel who had no prior experience in processing school applications. Several of these adjudicators mentioned to us that they had little idea of what they were looking for. At two of these locations, management had reassigned the function from an experienced inspector, who previously had been responsible for the program, to an inexperienced adjudicator. Inexperienced adjudicators are less likely to be familiar with and identify anomalies that may indicate a fraudulent school.
At eight of the ten district offices we contacted, adjudicators reported being overwhelmed by the workload of pending applications for school certifications. At the ten district offices we contacted, the number of applications awaiting processing by January 30, 2003, ranged from 43 to 364, with an average workload of 184 applications.18 As of mid-January, adjudicators at these locations had completed processing only 11 to 45 percent of these applications, with an average completion rate of 26 percent. In addition to reviewing I-17 applications, adjudicators spent extensive time responding to telephone calls and e-mails from DSOs inquiring about the status of their applications or requesting technical advice on using SEVIS. The adjudicators reported being frustrated when responding to these calls because they were not informed by INS headquarters of the status of the on-site reviews, and therefore were unable to appropriately respond to the DSOs. Nearly all the adjudicators that we contacted were skeptical of their ability to complete their reviews of the applications by January 30, 2003.
The problems the INS experienced during this initial SEVIS certification period highlight the need for the INS to assign full-time, well-trained personnel to the program. The workload will continue beyond the initial period. Between November 15, 2002, and January 30, 2003, the INS received an additional 1,305 applications which still needed review. In addition, an unknown number of schools will be submitting applications between January 31, 2003, and the August 1, 2003, deadline for mandatory use of SEVIS for continuing students. Also, all schools will need to reapply for certification every two years. The INS needs to develop a cadre of experienced adjudicators who are familiar with the process and the schools in their districts, so that they can more readily identify fraudulent applications.
We also found that at six of the ten district offices we contacted adjudicators were unable to access SEVIS. This was a major cause for delays, because SEVIS requires the adjudicators to electronically approve I-17 applications. At four districts, some of the adjudicators had not yet been assigned passwords, and at two other districts, adjudicators complained of continual problems in using passwords. At one district office, the adjudicator stated that because no one at her location had yet been assigned a password, she was manually adjudicating the applications and sending the results to INS headquarters where the results were electronically entered into SEVIS. Another adjudicator said that, after contacting INS Information Technology Support 11 times within a 2-week period due to a nonworking password, he was told that his experience was common and that another adjudicator had already been provided with 13 or 14 different passwords.
On-Site Reviews Not Conducted Timely
In September 2002, the INS contracted with three investigative firms to conduct on-site reviews. Although we believe that the on-site reviews would be more effective if conducted by INS staff familiar with the program, the INS's decision to use contract investigators was understandable given the tight implementation deadline, the volume of on-site reviews needed to be conducted, and the lack of in-house resources to perform the on-site reviews. The INS's statement of work required each contract investigative firm to have over 500 investigators available to conduct the on-site reviews. The INS estimated that it would order 400, 1,250, and 2,500 on-site reviews from the contract firm respectively, with the greatest number of reviews assigned to the lowest bidder.
The statement of work gives contract firms ten working days to conduct each on-site review and to report the results to the INS. INS headquarters personnel monitor the contract firms to identify delays. The INS developed a checklist for the contract investigators to use when conducting the reviews, in lieu of an investigative report. The contract investigators were required to submit a completed electronic checklist to INS headquarters and a hard copy of the checklist, along with supporting documentation collected at the school, to the applicable INS district office.
The INS experienced serious performance problems with one of its contract firms in meeting the 10-day deadline. This contract firm had been assigned the largest number of on-site reviews to conduct. On January 16, 2003, the INS provided us with a copy of the spreadsheets they use to track the contract firm's compliance with meeting the 10-day schedule. These spreadsheets did not include all of the schools that submitted applications, but only those schools that submitted applications by November 15, 2002. The timeliness problems of this contract firm are evident, as shown in Table 2.
Table 2: On-Site Reviews Assigned and Completed
as of January 16, 2003
|Contract Firm 1||Contract Firm 2|
|Number Received Late||33||470|
|Percent Received Late||6.6%||86.2%|
|Average Days to Complete||6.4||19.5|
Note: The INS did not have the data available for its third contractor at the time of our review. According to INS officials, there were no performance problems relating to timeliness for the third contractor.
Delays in Receiving Supporting Documentation From Schools
Processing delays also occurred because the contract investigators often failed to collect the required supporting documentation from the schools. The adjudicators we contacted complained that many of the I-17 applications submitted by the contract investigators were missing DSO signatures, although the contract investigators indicated on the checklist that they picked up the signed copy. An INS headquarters official told us in mid-January 2003 that the INS was aware of this problem and had brought it to the attention of the contract firms. However, the adjudicators we spoke to indicated that the problem was continuing. One adjudicator stated that a contract investigator had written on the checklist that he did not pick up a copy of a signed I-17 because he "didn't want to wait." The adjudicators also complained that contract investigators were neglecting to collect other supporting documentation from the schools, such as accreditation certificates. This lack of documentation caused additional processing delays, because the adjudicator must contact the school and wait for the school to send the missing information before the application can be processed.
QUALITATIVE PROBLEMS RELATED TO ON-SITE REVIEWS
We identified a number of issues relating to the quality of the on-site reviews and the usefulness of the information on the checklist. All of the adjudicators we spoke to criticized the quality of the information included in the checklists. The types of comments made included:
We reviewed a sample of 20 completed contract investigator checklists, pertaining to vocational, language, and flight schools to examine qualitative issues such as completeness, accuracy, and adequacy. Our findings mirrored the comments we received from the adjudicators. Most checklists were sparse, containing few narrative comments, with 3 of the 20 containing no narrative comments at all. Our additional observations about the checklists we reviewed were as follows:
In part, the problems with the checklists were due to the INS's failure to pretest the checklist in the field by having experienced school adjudicators conduct a sample of on-site reviews and provide feedback on the checklist deficiencies before using it nationally. We believe that had there been testing of the checklist, the INS could have identified qualitative problems and made the checklist a more useful instrument. To improve the usefulness of the checklist, the INS needs to obtain feedback from the field adjudicators and make appropriate revisions.
In addition, the INS provided no training to the contract investigators. The INS instead required the three contract firms to train their own employees in accordance with the statement of work. According to the statement of work: "The Contract firm shall provide trained investigators nationwide who have the required knowledge and expertise in performing time-sensitive investigations, test and evaluation, certification and accreditation and compliance audits and inspections." Based on the poor quality of some of the completed checklists we reviewed, and the comments made by the field adjudicators, we question the training and qualifications of some of the contract investigators. We believe that the INS should not be relying on the contract investigators to provide opinions on such issues as compliance and bona fides, but should instead better instruct the investigators on providing sufficient, thorough descriptions of the schools' operations.
In October 2002, we discussed with INS officials the need to establish quality control over the on-site reviews conducted by the contract investigators. The INS stated that it routinely reviewed copies of the contract investigators' on-site review checklists for completeness and timeliness. The INS did not agree with our suggestion to spot-check the contract investigators' reviews, but instead expressed confidence in the contract firms' abilities. We believe that quality control reviews are necessary for three reasons:
COMPLIANCE AUDITS NOT PROPERLY PERFORMED
In our original review, we recommended that the INS conduct audits of approved schools to determine whether proper internal controls are in place and whether the school's foreign student data is entered into SEVIS completely, accurately, and timely. This is important not only for identifying internal control weaknesses, which could lead to fraudulent activities, but also for ensuring the integrity of SEVIS data. On May 14, 2002, Congress enacted the Enhanced Border Security and Visa Entry Reform Act of 2002, which requires the INS, in consultation with the Department of Education (ED), to conduct a review every two years of the institutions certified to accept foreign students and exchange visitors to determine whether the institutions are in compliance with the statutory recordkeeping and reporting requirements.
The INS agreed with our recommendation and stated that its primary audit mechanism would be the on-site reviews by contract investigators, and that the need for additional audits would be identified through analytic reviews. Currently, when the INS requests an on-site review, it also provides the contract firm with a list of foreign students attending the school. When conducting the on-site review, the contract investigator is supposed to select at least five names from this list and obtain, from the school's records, detailed information on each student. The INS will compare the information gathered by the contract investigator from the school's manual records to the school's SEVIS records to verify accuracy and completeness.
We do not believe that these INS procedures are sufficient to identify internal control weaknesses or to conclude that a school's SEVIS records are complete, accurate, and current. We question whether contract investigators are qualified to conduct audits, which involves an assessment of internal controls and a sufficient sampling of records. We also noted numerous quality concerns relating to some contract investigators' performances, as described in the previous section. The checklist completed by the contract investigators indicates that some internal control issues, such as the DSOs' involvement with recruiting activities, are reviewed. However, other important internal control issues, such as whether the DSOs are U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents, or whether the DSOs are properly safeguarding their passwords, are not. In addition, five records are not a sufficient sample from which to conclude that the school's SEVIS entries are complete, accurate, and current, particularly at schools with large populations of foreign students. The INS also has not established a process for identifying and following up on either instances of noncompliance or possible fraud indicators identified during these reviews.
The ED already requires schools participating in federal student financial aid programs to have an independent auditor conduct both financial and compliance audits. Therefore, an effective way for the INS to help ensure that SEVIS audits are performed would be to coordinate with the ED to incorporate SEVIS reviews into the ED required audits. This should encompass many schools, but the INS still would need to ensure the remaining schools were audited.
ADDITIONAL TRAINING AND GUIDANCE NEEDED FOR INS ADJUDICATORS
In our original report, we identified deficiencies in training INS employees assigned to adjudicate I-17 applications. None of the designated school adjudicators at the four district offices we visited during our original review had received formal training. Many stated that they did not know what to look for when reviewing I-17 applications. Adjudicators also expressed a need for better guidelines to review the applications effectively.
To prepare the INS adjudicators for SEVIS, the INS conducted two training sessions, in June 2002 and August 2002. According to the adjudicators, the training primarily focused on the regulations and the technical aspects of SEVIS. Seven of the ten district office adjudicators we spoke to during our follow-up review attended the training.19 Opinions varied on the usefulness of this training. Several adjudicators, newly assigned to the I-17 adjudications function, commented that they found it difficult to follow the training because they were unfamiliar with the basics. One mentioned that at the time of the training she did not even know what an I-17 application was. In general, the attendees commented that they would like to have training on how to adjudicate the I-17s. We believe it would be beneficial for the INS to train adjudicators both on the I-17 adjudication process, and on recognizing fraud indicators so that they can better identify mala fide schools. The INS is planning an additional training session for adjudicators, and we strongly encourage the INS to use this session to obtain feedback from adjudicators on procedural problems, focus more on the adjudication process, and train adjudicators to identify fraud indicators.
The INS also needs to provide guidance to the INS adjudicators on what they should be looking for when reviewing the checklists. Many of the adjudicators we contacted stated that they were not sure what information they were looking for on the checklists. This was especially a problem with inexperienced adjudicators. The checklists should be a valuable tool for the adjudicators. For example, adjudicators could use the checklist to compare the estimated number of students with the number of available classrooms, or to identify whether the school possesses the equipment and facilities to run specialized programs. We suggest that the INS develop a standard review checklist for the adjudicators, which would become the record of the certification review. In addition, guidance is needed to specify what actions adjudicators need to take when the responses on the contract investigator checklists are incomplete, or indicate other problems, such as a DSO who is not knowledgeable of INS regulations, a DSO who is also a recruiter, or a student included in the contract investigator's sample who may be an overstay.
ADDITIONAL TRAINING NEEDED FOR INS INSPECTORS
It is essential that INS inspectors at ports of entry have a clear understanding of how to use SEVIS in determining whether to admit an alien to the United States. For example, inspectors need to know how to identify a legitimate SEVIS I-20, and how to use SEVIS to verify information relating to a foreign student's course of study.
The INS only recently started providing formal training to its inspectors at the ports of entry. At the time of our review, the only fully trained inspectors were at the ports of entry where an inspector was responsible for certifying schools. The inspectors responsible for certifying schools attended the INS training sessions in the summer of 2002, along with other adjudicators, and therefore were able to provide informal training to their co-workers. When we contacted INS training officers at five major airports in mid-January 2003, we were told that they had just participated in a teleconferenced "training the trainers" program. The training officers intended to formally train the inspectors the following week on how to use the SEVIS database, which is available on a read-only basis to inspectors in secondary inspections. The SEVIS database is not available to inspectors at primary inspections, mainly because training has not yet occurred.20 The INS has decided to phase-in the SEVIS connectivity at primary inspections, port by port, after headquarters personnel has provided sufficient training at each location.
NECESSARY ACTION TAKEN TO INSTRUCT DSOs
To ensure the integrity of SEVIS data, it is essential that DSOs are adequately trained, because they are responsible for entering SEVIS data into the system and reporting specific events, such as no-shows, to the INS.
We believe that the INS has taken reasonable steps to make DSOs aware of the foreign student program requirements. When a DSO first logs onto SEVIS, an e-mail message is generated, describing his or her responsibilities and referencing relevant regulations. In addition, before accessing SEVIS, a screen appears requiring the DSO to acknowledge familiarity with the regulations and to agree to comply with the regulations. The INS also has posted a user manual on its web site. INS officials told us that they intend to provide an on-line training module to DSOs in the second quarter of fiscal year 2003. 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.
IDENTIFICATION OF FRAUD INDICATORS FROM SEVIS DATA NEEDS REFERRAL TO ENFORCEMENT
In our original report, we recommended that the INS establish a separate unit at headquarters responsible for analyzing SEVIS data and identifying non-compliance and possible fraud by schools, such as sham schools and alien smuggling operations. The INS agreed with this recommendation.
In September 2002, the INS hired a consulting firm "to prepare a report quarterly as to the implementation and use of SEVIS with an emphasis on determining anomalies in data collected." According to the statement of work, these reports will show, for each INS-approved school, no-show rates, drop-out rates, and failures by the school to update SEVIS records. The reports also will show processing time for the I-17 applications and reinstatements by INS.21 While identifying non-compliance and potential fraud is a good first step, the process will only be effective if the INS ensures that any instances of potential fraud are referred for further investigation and enforcement action.
SUFFICIENT RESOURCES NEEDED FOR ENFORCEMENT ACTIVITIES
The INS has taken some action since our original review to identify, locate, and detain aliens who enter the United States on a student visa but fail to attend school. However, due to limited investigative resources, primarily only no-shows who present national security concerns or have criminal records are actively investigated.22 The INS needs to devote resources to investigating schools identified through on-site reviews or through SEVIS data analysis as fraudulent, DSOs who commit fraud, and students who complete their program but fail to depart the United States. We believe that foreign student program fraud will continue to exist unless the INS assigns sufficient resources to conduct investigations of potential fraud.
In our original review, we noted that INS investigators did not routinely pursue foreign students who failed to show up at school, who failed to depart the United States, or who failed to legally change their status once they terminated their studies. In addition, INS investigators rarely investigated schools; due to the limited number of investigators, these investigations were a low priority. The lack of enforcement created an environment conducive to fraud. We also found that the INS was not routinely entering the names of students reported by schools as no-shows into the National Automated Immigration Lookout System (NAILS). These aliens were therefore able to exit and re-enter the United States using their student visas without being identified as out-of-status.
The Enhanced Border Security and Visa Entry Reform Act of 2001 requires schools to report to the INS those foreign students who fail to enroll or commence participation in a course of study within 30 days after the deadline for registering for classes. Schools that have access to SEVIS report this information to the INS electronically. Schools that have not yet received approval from the INS to access SEVIS are required to provide this information telephonically. According to an INS official, headquarters investigations staff are currently referring these cases to their field investigations staff. According to an INS official, headquarters staff need to first "scrub" the non-SEVIS information by running the alien's name through various INS and investigative databases to identify whether the alien actually entered the United States, whether the alien departed the United States, whether the alien is attending a different school than the one indicated on the I-20, and the possible location of the alien. Once a possible no-show is identified, the information is sent to the relevant INS investigative field office. However, this does not mean that the alien is investigated or pursued. Due to the continuing problem of limited investigative resources and the volume of cases, investigations are focused primarily on aliens who present a national security concern or who have committed crimes.
We also were told that INS headquarters investigative staff are now entering names of probable no-shows into NAILS. This is a necessary step to identify these aliens as out-of-status should they leave the United States and attempt to re-enter or should they otherwise be detained.
As noted in the prior section, investigators need to actively investigate both fraudulent schools and DSOs at legitimate schools that are fraudulently issuing I-20s. Anomalies identified through SEVIS data analysis, which indicate fraudulent activities may be taking place, such as an excessive number of no-shows from a particular school, need to be investigated. Once SEVIS is fully implemented, it also will be possible to identify those students who fail to depart the United States or fail to change their status once they complete their studies, and are therefore in the United States illegally. However, foreign student program fraud will continue to exist unless sufficient investigative resources are provided.
INS OFFICES AND DEPARTMENT OF STATE CONSULAR POSTS HAVE THE ABILITY TO ACCESS SEVIS
The INS has developed connectivity between SEVIS and the Interagency Border Security System (IBIS) at all ports of entry.23 This connectivity became operational at all ports of entry on December 18, 2002. However, because the INS received reports of inspector confusion, primarily due to the lack of training, and because the connectivity caused IBIS to operate more slowly during the busy holiday travel period, the INS turned off the linkage on December 20, 2002. The INS was able to execute an interim program to extract the required information on a student's date of entry and port of entry from IBIS to update SEVIS. Because connectivity is not functional at primary inspections, all students possessing SEVIS I-20s are being sent to secondary inspections, where an inspector enters the data through the IBIS secondary screens. Starting in February 2003, after the inspectors are trained, the INS plans to re-test and implement the new IBIS screens at primary inspections on a port-by-port basis.
The INS also was mandated under the Enhanced Border Security and Visa Entry Reform Act of 2001 to establish an electronic means to monitor and verify the issuance of a visa to a foreign student or an exchange visitor program participant. According to INS officials, consular posts are currently transmitting the required information to SEVIS. When a school issues an I-20, this information is transmitted from SEVIS to the Department of State's consular system via a DataShare link. When an alien applies for a student visa, the consular officer is required to electronically verify the validity of the I-20. If the visa is approved, the consular officer is required to enter the SEVIS ID number into the consular system. The visa issuance data is transmitted to SEVIS via the DataShare link. This information is available to the INS inspectors at the ports of entry.24
According to the INS, on January 1, 2003, SEVIS software was fully deployed with all its interfaces. This means that INS service centers are currently able to access SEVIS to enter information related to approvals for changes of status, and INS district offices are able to access SEVIS to enter information related to approvals for vocational student reinstatements, transfers, program extensions, and practical training.
TRANSFER OF THE INS TO THE DHS WILL HAVE A MAJOR IMPACT ON SEVIS IMPLEMENTATION
The Homeland Security Act of 2002 (Public Law 107-296) transferred the INS to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) on March 1, 2003. The Act mandated that the INS's functions be split into the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services, which will focus on benefits programs, and the Bureau of Border Security, which will focus on enforcement activities. Section 442 (a)(4) of the Act states:
The Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of Border Security shall be responsible for administering the program to collect information relating to nonimmigrant foreign students and other exchange program participants described in section 641 of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 (8 U.S.C. 1372), including the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System established under that section, and shall use such information to carry out the enforcement functions of the Bureau.
On January 30, 2003, the DHS Secretary announced the reorganization of the DHS to create two new agencies, the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection, which will encompass the INS's inspections functions, and the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which will encompass the INS's investigative functions. Both agencies will be part of the Directorate of Border and Transportation Security. The Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement is now responsible for SEVIS.
There is much work to do before SEVIS is fully functioning. The SEVIS database will not contain complete information on all foreign students until August 1, 2003. In addition, as of March 1, 2003, the INS was still in the process of certifying schools, training INS personnel, and establishing procedures for identifying and following up on program fraud.
The most pressing issue for the DHS to resolve is deciding who will be responsible for conducting the certification reviews. Currently the SEVIS I-17 applications are adjudicated by district office benefits personnel, who will be part of the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services. Due to the on-going certification effort, the INS needs to identify and train new personnel as soon as possible. The INS was considering either transferring the adjudication responsibility to inspectors at the ports of entry or establishing a unique position within the investigations unit. However, because of the recently announced reorganization of the DHS, it may not be feasible for inspectors to perform this function, since the inspections and investigations functions will be located in separate bureaus.
In our original review, we criticized the INS for its fragmented management of the program, which resulted in a lack of accountability. In response, the INS centralized foreign student program responsibilities within the Immigration Services Division (ISD). Because the ISD will no longer be responsible for the program, we believe that the DHS should consider establishing a comparable position in the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
The INS has made progress in implementing SEVIS, and we believe that SEVIS should provide a useful tool to help the INS monitor both foreign students and the schools that they attend. Nonetheless, as we reported in our original review, implementing SEVIS alone will not ensure that foreign students and schools comply with INS regulations. To ensure that only legitimate schools are provided access to SEVIS, and that approved schools are complying with SEVIS requirements, sufficient numbers of well-trained adjudicators must be dedicated to monitoring the schools to identify potential instances of fraud and noncompliance. When potential instances of fraud are identified through SEVIS, they must be referred for further investigation, and enforcement action must be taken against violators.
We continue to have serious concerns with the INS's implementation of SEVIS. The INS has not dedicated adequate resources to the program to ensure that SEVIS applications are adjudicated promptly, and we found that the INS's oversight of the contract investigators who conduct the on-site reviews of schools is inadequate to ensure the quality of the reviews. In addition, the INS needs to improve the checklist that the contract investigators use to make it more useful for the adjudicators, and to provide better training and guidance to the adjudicators on how to use the checklists to identify possible fraudulent operations. We also found that the INS is not taking sufficient actions to ensure that schools are complying with reporting and recordkeeping requirements. Unless these problems are addressed, the information collected during on-site reviews, as well as any INS certifications that are based on that information, will be of questionable reliability.
The transfer of the INS to the DHS creates additional challenges for SEVIS implementation. Responsibility for the foreign student program and SEVIS has shifted from a bureau focused on providing immigration benefits to a bureau responsible for enforcing immigration laws. Ensuring that the SEVIS implementation continues to progress will require prompt identification of personnel in the new organization who will be responsible for certifying schools, so that they receive sufficient training and guidance to administer the program. Based on our observations and analysis, we have identified a number of actions that can help ensure the effectiveness of the program for monitoring foreign students attending United States schools:
We believe these actions should be taken and are critical to ensuring that SEVIS is fully implemented, reliable, and effective.