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Semiannual Report to Congress

April 1, 2002–September 30, 2002
Office of the Inspector General


The Office of Oversight and Review (O&R) is composed of attorneys, special agents, program analysts, and administrative personnel. O&R investigates sensitive allegations involving Department employees, often at the request of the Attorney General, senior Department managers, or Congress. O&R also conducts systemic reviews of Department programs.


In March 2002, the INS notified a Florida flight school that the applications of two of its students for a change in their immigration status from "visitors" to "students" had been granted. The two students, Mohamed Atta and Marwan Alshehhi, had participated in the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center Towers and the Pentagon, and the INS's notification of their change of status six months after the attacks caused widespread and severe criticism of the INS. The Attorney General requested that the OIG conduct an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the INS's handling of Atta's and Alshehhi's change of status applications.

Following an expedited review, the OIG released a report in May 2002 that discussed the INS's contacts with Atta and Alshehhi, as well as the INS's monitoring and tracking of foreign students in the United States. The OIG found that the INS's adjudication of Atta's and Alshehhi's change of status applications and its notification to the flight school were untimely and significantly flawed. First, the INS took more than 10 months to adjudicate the two men's applications. As a result, Atta's and Alshehhi's applications were not adjudicated until July and August 2001, well after they had completed the flight training course upon which their applications for student status were based. Second, the INS adjudicator who approved their applications did so without adequate information, including the fact that Atta and Alshehhi had left the country two times after filing their applications, which under INS regulations meant that they had abandoned their requests for change of status. Third, even after the INS took 10 months to approve the applications, the notification forms were not sent to the Florida flight school for another 7 months because the INS failed to adequately supervise a contractor who processed the documents. The OIG found that widespread failures by many INS officials resulted in the INS continuing to process the forms after Atta's and Alshehhi's participation in the attacks and not informing the FBI of the forms' existence.

The OIG also examined the INS's contacts with Atta and Alshehhi as they sought entry into the United States on several occasions prior to the September 11 attacks. The OIG concluded that the evidence did not show that the inspectors who admitted them violated INS policies and practices. However, the OIG found that prior to September 11 the INS did not closely scrutinize aliens entering the country to become students and did not uniformly require foreign students to present the required documentation before entering the United States.

Finally, the OIG evaluated the INS's tracking systems for foreign students - the paper-based system that exists now and SEVIS, the Internet-based system that the INS is developing. The OIG found that the INS's current, paper-based tracking system is inefficient, inaccurate, and unreliable. While SEVIS has the potential to improve the INS's monitoring of foreign students, SEVIS alone will not solve all the problems of the INS's tracking of foreign students. For example, the OIG noted that the INS must review the schools that are eligible to enroll foreign students, ensure that information in SEVIS is timely and accurate, train INS employees and school officers on their responsibilities, and ensure that the information in SEVIS is properly analyzed and used.

The report offered 24 recommendations to help address the problems highlighted by the Atta and Alshehhi cases and the problems found by the OIG's review of the INS's foreign student program.