WASHINGTON UPDATE; Lawmaker Calls for More Training to Improve Student Visa Program

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College and federal employees need more training to make the nation's new student visa system work effectively, says a member of the Congressional Black Caucus.

Amid mounting concern about the new Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS), the U.S. House of Representatives has approved a plan from Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee, D-Texas, to earmark more spending to SEVIS training. Critics say the new visa system that took effect Jan. 1 has been hampered by data problems and lack of training among federal employees, their contractors and colleges.

Colleges and universities "want to do the right thing," says Jackson-Lee. "But they cannot do it without the right training."

Her plan would add $10 million for SEVIS training as part of an emergency spending bill on the war in Iraq and homeland security.

Jackson-Lee's amendment follows two hearings on Capitol Hill that revealed the extent of debate about the new program's effectiveness.

"The new federal system for monitoring international students and exchange visitors does not work as promised," says Dr. David Ward, president of the American Council on Education. In a hearing before the House Science Committee, Ward said SEVIS is plagued by inconsistent and inefficient implementation, as well as technological problems.

"SEVIS was not ready and campuses are confronting enormous difficulties," he says. Problems include lack of final regulations on fee collection, inadequate training for college, as well as U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service staff responsible for the system. "The INS has not provided adequate training to anyone," he says. …