Over the borderline

When student visa approval forms for 9/11 hijackers Mohammed Atta and Marwan Al-Shehhi arrived at Huffman Aviation in Venice, Fla., six months after the two men had died flying hijacked jets into the World Trade Center in New York City, it was clear that the system that tracked foreign students was in need of repair.

Two years later, Sevis, a system that was launched to shape up the student visa application process, denied access to just 200 foreigners out of 850,000 who attempted to cross U.S. borders, according to Garrison Courtney, a spokesman for the Immigration and Customs Enforcement division of the Department of Homeland Security. Not a record to be proud of.

The Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (Sevis) is an Internet-based system that tracks information on non-immigrant students, exchange visitors and their dependents. Sevis enables schools and program sponsors to send information about students to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) electronically.

Immigration officials can access Sevis from terminals set up at all U.S. ports of entry, and they can check student entry documents, called I-20 forms, against information stored in Sevis, according to Gillie Haynes, an ICE spokesman.

Officials can also verify which school a student visa applicant is heading to, and they will know if students who are granted entry to the country do not show up to their assigned school.

And, because schools are required to register and pass site inspections by ICE officials to participate in the program, the government has weaned a list of more than 70,000 schools that accepted foreign students down to just 7,200 institutions.