OISS works with students to navigate new federal rules
Scott King arrived on campus in April in the midst of a revolution.
As the new director of the Office of International Students and Scholars (OISS), King is working with a number of changes in the way that universities must account for and advise international students.
In wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the U.S. government has taken steps to strengthen its knowledge of what international students are doing while theyre in the United States. One of those measures, SEVIS, has proved challenging for academic institutions.
SEVISStudent and Exchange Visitors Information Systemis part of the new Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services (BCIS), within the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. It tracks the activities of every international student in the country through a giant electronic database in an effort to help federal investigators foil future acts of terrorism.
Submitting information to SEVIS is time-consuming, King says, because not all of the information needed is readily available in electronic form and because some of the data had never been required in the past. Also, while it is improving, the database uses software that he describes as a bit buggy. In fact, educational institutions across the nation have complained that it can take up to two hours to enter information on a single student. OISS has until Aug. 1 to enter information on the Universitys 2,102 current international students.
But SEVIS is not the real problem, King says.
The actual reporting is onerous enough, but its just the latest thing, he says. There have been 30 major policies and regulations changed since Sept. 11, 2001, leaving a somewhat confusing situation for both students and administrators.
King says concerns reported by graduate students are well-founded.
Students who return to their countries during the summer naturally assume that the regulations in place when they last left the United States will still be in place when they apply to reenter. If changes occur, they can be turned down for reentry, with little recourse for appeal, he says. We tell students who are leaving that they might not be able to get back, so if they dont have to go, dont go.
In addition, U.S. immigration rules include a new zero-tolerance policy for minor infractions committed by international students. File a form half an hour past deadline, forget to extend a passport six months ahead of its expiration, or get caught working off-campus, and a student could be deported or arrested, King says.
Another cause for concern, Kings adds, is that the economic impact of international students studying in the United States is estimated to be $12 billion. For the state of Iowa, the estimate is $149 million, and for the University, $35 million. This figure includes out-of-state tuition, housing, furniture, food, transportation, books, fees, families coming to visit, airline tickets home, and materials bought in the United States to take back home.
And, in many departments, if international students currently studying here decide to go home, it could be difficult and expensive to replace them as teaching or research assistants. In fact, some departments had to scramble last fall when admitted graduate students were not allowed into the country despite holding teaching and research positions.
The University community can help, King says.
We have many faculty and staff who came from other countries and who may assume that what was true when they arrived a few years ago is still true now, he says. If a student asks for advice, dont give it based on your own experience.
Instead, he says, students should be referred to OISS at www.uiowa.edu/~intl/OISS or (33)5-0335.
Those who supervise or advise an international student should make sure the student is aware of impending deadlines and ready to meet them, King adds. Registration deadlines are especially important, as enrollment reports to BCIS will be made according to these published dates.
Students should activate their University or departmental e-mail accounts and read messages regularly and also subscribe to lists offered by OISS to get regular updates. Students on an F-1 or J-1 visa who receive a visa documentation form from SEVIS by mid-July should call or e-mail OISS immediately for help.
King also says students should be encouraged to attend periodic open discussions with him to get up-to-date information.