Homeland Security:

Performance of Information System to Monitor Foreign Students and Exchange Visitors Has Improved, but Issues Remain

GAO-04-690: Published: Jun 18, 2004. Publicly Released: Jun 18, 2004.

Additional Materials:

Contact:

Randolph C. Hite
(202) 512-6256
contact@gao.gov

 

Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800
youngc1@gao.gov

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has implemented the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) to collect and record key data on foreign students, exchange visitors, and their dependents--prior to their entering the United States, upon their entry, and during their stay. In accordance with Conference Report 108-280, GAO reviewed SEVIS. Among the areas it examined were (1) system performance, (2) actions to improve performance, and (3) plans for collecting the fee to be paid by foreign students and exchange visitors to cover SEVIS costs.

Several indicators show that SEVIS performance is improving. First, program office reports for some key system performance requirements show that these requirements are being met. However, not all key performance requirements are being monitored or reported on. Without formally monitoring all key performance requirements, DHS cannot adequately assure itself that potential problems will be identified and addressed early. Second, other, less formal indicators of performance, such as daily system use by program officials and unsolicited user feedback, indicate that the system is meeting requirements. Third, GAO's analysis of new requests for system changes, including changes to address reported performance problems, shows these requests are declining. Finally, officials representing educational organizations generally see performance as having improved. DHS has taken specific actions to improve SEVIS performance. In particular, it has installed a series of new software releases and increased Help Desk staffing and training. In addition, program officials are holding regularly scheduled meetings, both internally and with educational representatives, and are asking user groups to test new releases. Despite these efforts, however, educational organizations continue to report problems, such as the quality of Help Desk assistance. DHS submitted its final rule on the SEVIS fee to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) in February and plans to collect the fee once OMB approves it. Representatives of educational organizations are concerned that two of the three payment options in DHS's final rule are either not available to all students in developing countries or will result in significant delays. Program officials acknowledge the increased demands on students and visitors, but do not believe that these demands warrant changes to their plans.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: SEVP has instituted several measures to improve the timeliness and quality of the Help Desk's responses. To address timeliness of Help Desk responses, SEVP has: (1) implemented a process to ensure that all high priority Help Desk tickets are reviewed and escalated as necessary; (2) implemented a process with the Department of State in order to involve State in the process of correcting data fixes in a timely manner; and (3) begun gathering weekly statistics on related performance measures which are reviewed by SEVP program management. To address quality of Help Desk responses, SEVP has: (1) implemented a process for continually updating a knowledge-based computer tool that the Help Desk staff use to answer questions; (2) initiated periodic visits to the Help Desk staff by agency management; (3) begun to conduct weekly conference calls with Help Desk supervisors; and (4) continued to conduct monthly teleconferences with user representatives.

    Recommendation: To strengthen SEVIS performance, the Secretary of Homeland Security should direct the Assistant Secretary of Immigration and Customs Enforcement to ensure that the Student and Exchange Visitor Program Director assesses educational organization Help Desk concerns and take appropriate action to address these concerns.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: Directorate of Border and Transportation Security: Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DHS's approach to addressing this recommendation is through the introduction of a new Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) system, known as SEVIS II. Specifically, in June 2006, DHS reported that the Student Exchange and Visitor Program (SEVP) would transition to SEVIS II. To this end, DHS developed a SEVIS II System Requirements Document, dated September 2008, which includes a number of system performance requirements, such as operational availability (the system is to be operationally available 99.5 percent of the time, allowing for planned system maintenance), response time (the database is to respond to a query by account number for core biographic data in less than 10 seconds), and storage capacity (the database will store 12,500,000 eligibility records). Moreover, DHS's Fiscal Year 2009 Exhibit 300 budget submission to the Office of Management and Budget includes a number of performance goals and measures for SEVIS and SEVIS II. If DHS effectively implements and operationally manages SEVIS II, it should meet the intent of this recommendation, and therefore, we consider it to be generally implemented at this juncture.

    Recommendation: To strengthen SEVIS performance, the Secretary of Homeland Security should direct the Assistant Secretary of Immigration and Customs Enforcement to ensure that the Student and Exchange Visitor Program Director provides for measurement of key performance requirements that are not being formally measured.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: Directorate of Border and Transportation Security: Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DHS's approach to addressing this recommendation is through the introduction of a new Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) system, known as SEVIS II. Specifically, in June 2006, DHS reported that the Student Exchange and Visitor Program (SEVP) would transition to SEVIS II. To this end, DHS developed a SEVIS II System Requirements Document, dated September 2008, which includes a number of system performance requirements, such as operational availability (the system is to be operationally available 99.5 percent of the time, allowing for planned system maintenance), response time (the database is to respond to a query by account number for core biographic data in less than 10 seconds), and storage capacity (the database will store 12,500,000 eligibility records). Moreover, DHS's Fiscal Year 2009 Exhibit 300 budget submission to the Office of Management and Budget includes a number of performance goals and measures for SEVIS and SEVIS II. If DHS effectively implements and operationally manages SEVIS II, it should meet the intent of this recommendation, and therefore, we consider it to be generally implemented at this juncture.

    Recommendation: To strengthen SEVIS performance, the Secretary of Homeland Security should direct the Assistant Secretary of Immigration and Customs Enforcement to ensure that the Student and Exchange Visitor Program Director assesses the extent to which defined SEVIS performance requirements are still relevant and are being formally measured.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: Directorate of Border and Transportation Security: Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In June 2004, we reported that the Department of Homeland Security's Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) had plans for collecting a fee for implementing and administering the program, but that about 7 years had passed since the collection of the fee was first required by legislation and that SEVP's plans had not yet been approved, much less implemented. Accordingly, we recommended that the DHS Secretary direct the Assistant Secretary of Immigration and Customs Enforcement to take the necessary steps to provide for the expeditious implementation of the fee collection. SEVP began collecting the fee in September 2004. Further, SEVP estimates total fee collections for fiscal years 2005 through 2009 to be $239,361,844. The total net present value is $229,976,688. As a result of implementing the fee collection, the agency became full-fee funded as of October 1, 2004, and no longer relies on appropriated funds in order to operate the program.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Homeland Security should direct the Assistant Secretary of Immigration and Customs Enforcement to take the necessary steps to provide for the expeditious implementation of the results of the SEVIS fee rulemaking process.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: Directorate of Border and Transportation Security: Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement

 

Explore the full database of GAO's Open Recommendations »

Dec 17, 2014

Nov 6, 2014

Oct 14, 2014

Sep 30, 2014

Sep 24, 2014

Sep 18, 2014

Sep 17, 2014

Sep 10, 2014

Looking for more? Browse all our products here