Magazine article University Business

Database Dilemma: INS Gaffe Spurs Changes in Foreign-Student Tracking Laws. (Update)

Magazine article University Business

Database Dilemma: INS Gaffe Spurs Changes in Foreign-Student Tracking Laws. (Update)

Article excerpt

The timing couldn't have been worse when the Immigration and Naturalization Service had to explain why, in March, a Florida flight school received student visa approvals for Mohamed Atta and Marwan Al-Shehhi, six months after their suicidal jet attacks on the World Trade Center. But the error may ultimately serve to build support for a controversial INS plan to upgrade its foreign student database and create timely communication with the schools these students attend.

An INS spokesman said the student visas were approved last summer before the pair surfaced as terrorists, but the INS failed to instruct a private contractor to delete the 9/11 terrorists from its approved list. That company processed the visa requests and issued letters to the flight school six months later.

The INS says it will tighten communication with contractors to prevent future errors, but some college administrators are skeptical The student visa system has so far been "a mess," says Barmak Nassirian, associate executive director of the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers. The INS hopes that SEVIS, a database initiative born out of the U.S. Patriot Act, may help solve the problems. SEVIS, expected to be online by January 2003, is a Web-based database that will track all foreign students in the United States. "Schools don't have to take any proactive measures to comply with the act," says Tracy Mitrano, co-director of Cornell University's Computer Policy and Law Program, and a policy adviser for the IT office. …

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