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Consumer Reports

System to track foreign students bashed | (UPI) -- A computer system designed in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks to track foreign students in the United States isn't working, critics said Wednesday at a hearing by the Senate Committee on Science.

David Ward, president of the American Council on Education, also said the system results in extensive delays in issuing visas in many cases and raises questions about what scholars and students can study.

He told the committee that the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System, known as SEVIS, is technologically flawed.

"Many schools report that their immigration forms have printed out on the computers of other schools," he said.

He said one example was that forms that Stanford University in California tried to print were later discovered at Duke University in North Carolina. Michigan State and Arizona State had similar problems.

"Most worrisome, perhaps, confidential SEVIS forms printed by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory -- a secure government installation -- were printed at a proprietary school in San Francisco," said Ward, former chancellor at the University of Wisconsin.

Officials from the Department of Homeland Security, which runs the program, did not testify, but spokesman Chris Bentley said the agency has quietly been fixing them.

"By and large, the issues addressed have already been resolved. We actually took the system down for 15 minutes and addressed them," Bentleys.

He said as other problems pop up they will be taken care of.

"There probably will still are problems, but things become apparent, we'll make the repair," he said. "We'll continue to tweak."

The old system that tracked the 500,000 students and scholars who come to the United States every year to attend school, did not work. The USA Patriot Act of 2001 ordered the Immigration and Naturalization Service to come up with the new system.

The INS developed it and it has since been turned over to the Department of Homeland Security.

SEVIS was rolled out Jan. 1 and colleges and universities were instructed to use it exclusively by Feb. 15.

The consensus is that the system was not ready. Even the Department of Justice is critical, although hopeful that it will eventually work.

"The INS has not dedicated adequate resources to the program to ensure that SEVIS applications are adjudicated promptly," a Justice Department report said.

It also said there are problems in guaranteeing that the colleges on the applications are legitimate.

"We believe that SEVIS is the single most important step that the federal government can take to improve its ability to mo0nitor international students and exchange visitors and we strongly support its implementation," Ward told the science committee.

"However, we have repeatedly indicated a concern that this system was being implemented before it was fully operational," he said.

At previous hearings last fall, colleges and universities, along with the justice department inspector general, testified the program would not be ready in time.

"Sadly as we feared, SEVIS was not ready, and campuses are experiencing enormous difficulties," Ward said.

A state department official testified on the difficulties it was having with the system. The department is running the system through it's own computer system, and that is causing difficulties.

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