The Immigration and Naturalization Service, which is starting a new automated system to track foreign students, has given colleges until Feb. 15 to comply, extending the deadline by two weeks because of technical problems.
The INS had set Jan. 30 as the mandatory deadline for schools to use the Internet-based Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS), designed to keep up-to-date information on foreigners who apply for and receive student visas. Mandated by Congress, the system will track an estimated 1 million foreign students and replace a paper-based monitoring system that has been plagued by problems.
Although INS has authorized more than 3,000 schools to use SEVIS, there were indications that the agency would have trouble meeting its deadline.
Some school officials already using the system complained that it froze for long periods or was "unavailable" to receive data. Hours before the deadline, INS officials had not decided on the applications of more than 1,000 schools.
INS spokesman Christopher Bentley said the pending applications were not a factor when the agency decided to extend the deadline Wednesday night.
"As more and more schools came on line, it was seen that corrective measures needed to be taken because the system was slowing down," he said.
Schools approved to use SEVIS, which will notify the INS about visa violators, began learning of the new deadline yesterday. Victor Johnson, associate executive director for the Association of International Educators, said schools fear that they may not have enough time to test the system.
"There is a tremendous amount of frustration," he said. "Computer processes that are supposed to take 10 minutes are taking hours. The INS really needs to test the system under real conditions."