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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

May 20, 2002
Office of the Inspector General


  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.

  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 required 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.

  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 written guidelines on conducting the re-certifications, and provide adequate training to those responsible for performing the re-certifications and making site visits.

  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.

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

  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.

  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.

  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-based positions funded out of the processing fee that will eventually be charged to foreign students.

  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.

  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.

  11. The INS is proposing regulations that would require visitors to have declared that they are prospective students at the time they entered the country in order to be eligible to change their status at a later date. For this regulation to be meaningful, the INS, working with the State Department, should define "prospective student."

  12. The INS should decide whether aliens will be required to submit documentation in support of their assertion that they are prospective students, such as acceptance letters or offers of scholarships, or whether something less will suffice, such as a statement that they have not yet applied to any schools but plan to after visiting several.

  13. The INS should ensure that change of status adjudicators in the service centers are aware of how to access the "prospective student" information recorded in NIIS.

  14. To increase the effectiveness of its monitoring of and collecting information about foreign students, the INS should consider whether part-time students should also be monitored. While we recognize that collecting information about every visitor who enrolls in a class or a short course of study would impose a significant burden on the INS, we believe that the INS should take steps to determine what information about these students and schools should be collected.

  15. The INS must ensure that it devotes the resources necessary to maintain a fast processing time for I-539 change of status applications in order to avoid penalizing foreign students who are waiting for their applications to be adjudicated before starting school.

  16. The INS must also determine how it will handle nonimmigrants who have applied to become students but whose applications have not been adjudicated prior to the start of their classes.

  17. The INS should advise I-539 applicants for student status of the requirement that their applications must be completed prior to beginning school and also advise them of the procedure to be followed if the INS has not completed their application prior to the start of school. This procedure should also be communicated to the schools.

  18. The INS should, as part of its overall management of foreign students, designate a person or an office within the service centers with the responsibility of communicating with schools and establish a procedure for accomplishing this objective.

  19. The INS should develop clear and specific guidance for service center adjudicators on how information from IBIS checks will affect the adjudication decision, including information about previous overstays, immigration violations and criminal histories. Adjudicators should be informed about what steps to take if it is not clear that the applicant is the subject of the "hit" or "lookout" in IBIS.

  20. SEVIS should be designed so that the primary inspector will be notified as part of the routine check performed at the POEs that an alien has filed an I-539 to become a student or has already been conferred student status through the I-539 process so that primary inspectors can verify the alien's statement of intent to the inspector.

  21. Instructions to the I-539 application should inform applicants that if they leave the country while their application is pending, they will be considered to have abandoned the application. Likewise, the instructions should inform the applicants that once the new status is conferred, they lose that status if they leave the country and will be required to obtain student visas to re-enter.

  22. The INS should restate its policy with respect to I-193 waivers and ensure that primary inspectors understand and consistently enforce the waiver policy and its limitations. Clear guidance should be re-issued to inspectors about what is considered an emergency that can result in the issuance of a waiver.

  23. The INS should change service center adjudicators' performance standards to allow more time to review files and seek additional information. At a minimum, in light of the new processing requirements described in this report, the INS should reconsider the performance standards for service center adjudicators and adjust the standards to accommodate the additional time that will be spent by these adjudicators implementing the new processing requirements.

  24. The INS should expeditiously complete and update its field manuals. In addition, it should implement a more effective system for disseminating policies and procedures other than sending the documents to the head of a field office.