International office allowed to issue student visas

The international office was recertified this month to issue the forms necessary for student visas.

I-20 forms can only be given out by universities approved by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Among other requirements, universities are only approved if they have been meticulous in recording information on the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS).

SEVIS keeps track of every aspect of an international student’s life, from date of birth and country of origin to class schedules and dorm rooms. SEVIS was initiated after 9/11, to better monitor foreign activities in the U.S.

Some students find the thoroughness of SEVIS’ knowledge disconcerting. Freshman Ana Villalba compares it to a government database in her home country of Mexico.

“It’s very safe, supposed to be very secure, but once they found old data on the black market,” she said. “[SEVIS] is kind of scary.

What are they going to do with that information?”

Other students do not see it as a problem.

“If I had foreigners coming into my country, I’d probably want to keep track of them, too,” said junior David Kamwana, a student from Zambia.

“We need to know exactly who’s coming into the U.S., where they’re coming from, and why they’re coming. [ICE] is satisfied so long as all that information is in the database,” said Billy Stevenson, director of international programs.

Because ICE conducts random checks on campus, it is crucial for SEVIS to be updated at all times, or else a student could be deported.

“It’s our commitment to them to keep them legal…Without the hard work of International Programs on their behalf, they could run into problems without even knowing it,” said Stevenson.

Stevenson works with his wife Mindi, international education coordinator, Shohreh Noorbakhsh, international program office assistant, and Ron Johnson, director of the Walton International Scholarship Program, to keep the information current and correct. Noorbakhsh in particular has spent hundreds of hours on SEVIS.

Because there are nearly 150 international students at John Brown University, the recertification is crucial to preserving the diversity of campus culture. Noorbakhsh called the recertification “a great blessing.”

“The international diversity we have on campus is both special and unique,” said Stevenson. “[International students] enrich the learning experience…We must capitalize on the cultural perspective of students.”