Hank Investigates: Student Visas
Designed to target terror that doesn't always work. Almost a million students from other countries are attending schools in the U.S. that's what the feds know. What they don't know, are any of them manipulating the student visa system just to enter the country? Case in point: two 9-11 hijackers, including Mohammed Atta, were granted student visas.
"I can't understand why this could happen."
Senator Tom Daschle, 2002
The result: a congressional crackdown on visiting students to monitor who's where, why, and make sure they're really in school. Here's how they do it: SEVIS, the computerized Student and Exchange Visitor Information System, its goal is real time tracking of international students.
Victor Johnson, Association of International Educators
"It is a means of identifying that really small number of people who may be here to do us harm."
To do that, schools must input every such student's status and it's all linked to the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Problem is that on many levels it isn't working.
At Northeastern, officials complain that the system is slow, expensive, and has a history of problems.
"I don't think the system works as well as it could, it's a mammoth system and its enormous in scope."
Scott Quint, Northeastern University
Other educators complain, that the system loses information and has even mistakenly canceled students out of the database, sending immigration officials in pursuit. In fact, at this D.C. college, a student was led away in handcuffs!
"SEVIS has all kinds of glitches that are extremely troubling."
What's more, every school with an international program is supposed to be federally certified as legit, but though 7,400 or so now operate in the U.S. from the ivy league to cooking schools, hundreds of institutions are still not approved, including we found, more than a dozen in Massachusetts.
"It means we might still be lacking information on foreign students, who we ought to be tracking."
David Goldston, Chief of Staff, House Science Committee
In fact, this new Department of Justice Inspector General report found "continuing problems" and "serious concerns" about a system "not fully implemented."
Whatís more, an overloaded system means new international students may be prevented from enrolling. Educators say if that happens, everyone will lose.
"Students and their dependents contributed $12 billion to the American economy in the last academic year. That number would start to go down.
Now D.C. lawmakers want to know why itís not working. At Capitol Hill hearings, they're demanding explanations.
"If the SEVIS system is not accurate, then we're no better off than we were before and are vulnerable again to the kind of activities that led to Sept 11."
Congressional hearings now underway on the system. Immigration officials told us, they admit there are problems, but all they can say is they're working on it.