SEVIS’ impact hardly seen at NU, but some officials still concerned

Sheila Burt

As Northwestern’s international student enrollment remains fairly constant, the effects of a new national database that tracks international students are not immediately apparent, university officials said.

Almost two months after the Aug. 1 deadline for international students to update their visa information in a new database, known as the Student Exchange Visitor Information System, NU students have complied with the program but some remain wary of its requirements.

SEVIS was designed by the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services and is one part of stricter regulations implemented since Sept. 11, 2001. If students’ visa information was not updated by the deadline, they risked deportation.

Ravi Shankar, director of NU’s International Office, explains SEVIS as a tracking system where universities enter 19 items about international students, such as their names, birth dates and majors. The office then generates a visa document based on the information reported.

“As of now, from NU’s perspective, nobody has been deported or anything of that sort,” Shankar said, adding that NU has been certified SEVIS compliant since mid-December.

The International Office issued 750 immigration documents this year, an increase by 100 from last year, according to Shankar.

However Shankar said the full effects of SEVIS on NU’s enrollment will not be known until mid-October.

Rebecca Dixon, associate provost for university enrollment, said international student enrollment has increased as the school becomes more well known overseas.

In addition to a recruiter who travel overseas, Dixon said letters and brochures also are sent, a process she refers to as “armchair recruiting.”

Of the 28 graduate students in the engineering program this year, 18 are international students,many from Tawain and China, said Janet Soule, academic coordinator for the McCormick School of Engineering’s civil and environmental engineering program .

“The kids who were applying were very, very concerned about (SEVIS) and did ask for additional pieces of document,” Soule said. “But it turned out you really didn’t need them. They didn’t seem to have a problem.”

At the University of Michigan, where there are almost 4,000 international students, one official said SEVIS’ effects may not be immediate.

“If students find it’s increasingly difficult to go through the paper work and forms, if basically the hassle factors increase, then it would impact all schools,” said Louise Baldwin, assistant director of Michigan’s International Center.

But SEVIS is not be the only factor that could decrease international student enrollment, Baldwin added.

“There have been a number of new regulations,” she said. “There’s much more of an emphasis on pretty strict enforcement of immigration regulations.”

Julie Misa, assistant director of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s Office of International Student Affairs, said the 4,500 international students at the school had similar worries.

Misa added that the university could not enroll some students because of visa renewal problems, but the problems were unrelated to SEVIS and the university’s international student enrollment numbers have increased marginally.

But even if numbers remain steady, NU students and officials at various universities said many students are apprehensive about SEVIS because it is so new.

When Arzu Sak, a Communication senior and international student from Turkey, updated her visa forms a little later than the deadline, she had to write a page-long essay on why she did not apply sooner.

But although Alex Tse said he believes entering the United States is more difficult since Sept. 11, the McCormick senior from Hong Kong was not bothered by SEVIS.

“There wasn’t that much to it,” Tse said. “It was pretty straight forward.”

The Daily’s Dalia Naamani-Goldman contributed to this report.