Nov 19, 2002
Calvin Readies for SEVIS
In the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks homeland security has become a critical issue for the United States government. And now local colleges and universities are being asked to do their part in that effort.
Beginning January 30, 2003 all U.S. colleges and universities with international students are required to track and report to the government a series of 19 "documents" for international students: everything from whether a student still has full-time status or not to if they've changed their major.
It will all go to a government database called SEVIS: Student and Exchange Visitor Information System. It requires not only that schools report information on their international students, but also other international members of the campus community such as visiting scholars. And it all needs to be done electronically between the school and the INS.
At Calvin College the mandate is a significant one. That's because Calvin counts about 330 international students among its 4,300 undergrads. That number includes about 180 Canadians and another 150 students from a wide range of countries, everything from Australia to Zimbabwe.
So the school has formed a task force to get Calvin SEVIS-ready.
Todd Dornbos, the school's associate registrar, says Calvin already is in full compliance in time for the January 30 deadline. In fact, he says, Calvin has to be ready by that date because of a special term in January.
"Calvin," he says, "has an interim term in January, which means our second semester starts after the January 30 deadline, so we need to be in full compliance for second semester. A lot of schools start their second semester before January 30 which gives them the luxury of not having to be in full compliance until the fall semester. So our timetable here is a quick one."
In light of that Calvin, under the leadership of Immigration Coordinator Jo Cooper, is holding meetings this week to brief international students on the changes. The first two were held Monday, November 18 and Tuesday, November 19. The remaining two (both of which will be held in room 010 of the Calvin Science Building) will be Wednesday, November 20 (3:30-4:30 pm) and Thursday, November 21 (5-6 pm).
"We want to work with the government," says Dornbos, "and we also want to support and inform our international students. Those students are an important part of the fabric of this campus. We want them to hear from us face-to-face about these changes."
Dornbos says the ramifications of the new system are significant. One article he read used the example of a student who drops a course on a Friday, intending to add one later. The dropped course, however, puts the student below full-time status and that information gets transmitted to SEVIS. The student, who now is considered "out of status" travels to Canada for the weekend, a distinct possibility, for example, at Calvin and tries to reenter the U.S. on Sunday night. Since ports of entry has access to SEVIS data the student may not be able to enter the U.S.
Says Dornbos: "A fictional example like that hits close to home at Calvin. Obviously we want to have everything in order so that we understand the system and make sure nothing like that happens. We want to ensure that international students remain a valued and integral part of our campus."