SEVIS Status Verification At Ports of Entry

May 21, 2013

 

Summary

According to conversations that NAFSA had with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), DHS has implemented a system that updates U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) databases with a lookout for F, M, and J nonimmigrants whose SEVIS record has been terminated, cancelled, or completed. Arriving nonimmigrants who have a lookout in their record due to this protocol will be referred to secondary inspection, where a more in-depth inquiry can be done regarding their admissibility.

This protocol has been implemented to ensure that individuals whose SEVIS records have been terminated, cancelled, or completed are not admitted or readmitted without a thorough review of their situation. Individuals who do not have a lookout on their record due to this reason should be admitted to the United States as usual through primary inspection, unless there is some other unrelated reason which calls for a more thorough review in secondary inspection.

  • This is still an evolving issue. NAFSA is in contact with the relevant DHS components, and will update this page as more information becomes available.
  • If you would like to tell NAFSA of specific experiences your students and exchange visitors have had, log in to the NAFSA website and submit to NAFSA's Report an Issue in IssueNet.
  • If you would like to talk with your colleagues about how they are responding to this on their campuses, log in to the NAFSA website and engage with them in NAFSA's International Student Advising Forum (ISTA).

Background

Current law requires all arriving travelers to be inspected by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) at a U.S. port of entry (POE) before being admitted to the United States.

Immigration inspection at a POE consists of two inspections levels: primary and secondary. All arriving visitors pass through primary inspection, where a CBP inspector determines admissibility to the United States by reviewing the results of government database queries, examining travel documents, and conducting a brief interview. If the CBP officer at primary determines that there are no admissibility issues, and any other issues that might have arisen are successfully resolved, then the traveler will be admitted to the United States and permitted to proceed to collect their baggage.

If the CBP inspector cannot determine admissibility in the limited time available in primary inspection, the arriving visitor is referred to secondary inspection, where other CBP officers can take more time to investigate, perform additional information system queries, more thoroughly examine documents, and interview the traveler in greater detail, without delaying the flow of travelers in the primary inspection area.

In the case of individuals tracked in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS), the status of the traveler's SEVIS record is relevant to CBP’s decision regarding admissibility to the United States. CBP would ideally be able to see in primary inspection whether a traveler's SEVIS record has been terminated, cancelled, or completed, and if so, refer the traveler to secondary inspection where a thorough review of the case could be done to determine whether or not the closed SEVIS record is an accurate indication of the traveler's current status and admissibility.

Although the SEVIS database is updated in real-time when a Designated School Official or Responsible Officer submits the update, at most ports of entry direct access to SEVIS itself is available only in the secondary inspection area, and not at the workstations in primary inspection.

The new DHS protocol bridges this gap by updating CBP’s data systems with a lookout that is seen at primary inspection workstations, for individuals whose SEVIS record has been terminated, cancelled, or completed, when that individual also has a valid F, M, or J visa.

In written testimony before the House delivered on May 21, 2013, DHS officials described some related steps that DHS has taken as follows:

"Earlier this month, DHS implemented a technological solution that ensures that CBP inspectors at our ports of entry have the most current information regarding a student visa holder’s status at the time of their entry and exit from the United States. On a daily basis CBP’s TECS database will be updated with a record of individual status changes to an individual’s I-20. Thus, if that individual presents them-self for inspection before a CBP Officer, the officer would see that there was a status indication change and the I-20 should be checked / validated via SEVIS to assist in a proper admissibility decision. These improvements will be supplemented later this month through a system upgrade that improves SEVIS’s interface with ADIS (Arrival Departure Information System), which displays critical travel data such as the I-94 Admission Number, Passport Expiration Date and Visa Expiration Date data. This upgrade will automate the lookout for SEVIS violators and improve communication between the two systems in order to better identify overstays using internal reporting capabilities and security control remediation for authorized users including CBP Inspectors. An additional upgrade allows DOS to also access and record information in SEVIS records, which further enhances our situational awareness of foreign students."

While DHS was implementing this protocol, all nonimmigrants arriving in F, M, or J status were being referred to secondary inspection. That temporary policy lasted for a period of about ten days (approximately from May 1 – May 10, 2013), according to DHS conversations with NAFSA.

Since the protocol has been implemented, however, only F, M, and J nonimmigrants with the new SEVIS lookout in their record should be referred to secondary for review of the full SEVIS record and for further inspection, unless there is some other lookout or other reason to refer the individual to secondary.

Things to consider now

NAFSA suggested to DHS that they notify SEVIS users of the new protocol. In the meantime, take into account the following, as you consider how you will notify your F, M, and J community of these procedures:

  • Secondary inspection is not a new creation. Many individuals may already have experienced a referral to secondary inspection during one of their prior entries to the United States. Here is a brief description of secondary inspection on the Study in the States website.
  • An individual referred to secondary inspection should be prepared for the admission process to take significantly longer, and should take this into account when arranging connecting flights and airport pickups.
  • Being prepared with the right documentation can help the process go more smoothly. For example, before leaving and reentering the United States, returning individuals should make sure that their visa is valid, their SEVIS record is in Active status, and their SEVIS form has been properly endorsed with a travel signature. They may also wish to travel with other documentation showing that they are in good academic and SEVIS status. Also see Arrival Procedures for Students or Exchange Visitors on the CBP website, which, even though it has not yet been updated to reflect these new procedures, does provide some helpful information.
  • Anyone reentering who may have had a SEVIS record terminated, cancelled, or completed should be prepared with current documentation and reasoning that establishes their ability to resume their program in the United States.