New CSU system to track foreign students

The California State University system announced last week that it will try out a new automated software system to help track foreign students for the Immigration and Naturalization Service.

The CSU will be one of five college groups in the country to try out the new software, which developer PeopleSoft is donating for free in exchange for the school’s testing the system. The university is already in the middle of converting all the human-resources, student-services and financial software at its 23 campuses to PeopleSoft systems at a cost of $400 million over six years.

The Student Exchange and Visitor Information Service (SEVIS) was on its way to implementation before 9-11 but was given greater urgency and a $36 million funding boost when Congress passed the USA Patriot Act, which called for greater immigration controls. According to an INS spokeswoman, only one of the suspected 9-11 hijackers was here on a student visa.

CSU spokeswoman Colleen Bentley-Adler said the student information being given to the INS was basically the same as what universities across the country have for many years been required to compile—enrollment verification, date of graduation and other routine student “events.” The problem in the past was that the INS lacked the manpower to check on the status of every student, allowing some to overstay their visas almost indefinitely.

“We had been collecting this data all along, but the INS basically told us, ‘Don’t send any of it, we don’t have the capability to sort it all,'” Bentley-Adler said.

About 500,000 foreigners come to the U.S. on student visas every year, and according to the CSU, the whereabouts of about 200,000 are currently unknown. Like many schools, the CSU system makes a lot of money on foreign students, who spend an estimated $11 billion in this country every year. The CSU system will educate about 17,000 foreigners this year, each of whom will pay about $10,000 in tuition.

INS spokesman Chris Bentley said the new system will save time, money and manpower by converting an all-paper system to an automated electronic one. When asked if the information would be shared among other government agencies, Bentley said that all INS information was shared on an “as-needed” basis but added that the system was “not meant as an investigative tool.”

Reaction to the new system among foreign students on the Chico campus has been muted, according to International Student Adviser Mary Kowta.

"I have a lot of contact with foreign students, and I haven’t heard of that many problems with [SEVIS]," she said, adding that many students have either not heard of the program or don’t yet know how it will affect them.