Vetting foreign exchange students in the Tennessee Valley
Southern Adventist University has one of the largest number of foreign exchange students in the Tennessee Valley. But before they can qualify for student visas, the federal government conducts a lengthy investigation to make sure they’re intent is to get an education and not commit an act of terrorism.
"We continue to check applications names and fingerprints against records of individuals who could be a security threat; including the terrorist watch list as far as law enforcement is concerned. All these applicants worldwide are subject to rigorous background vetting," said Carissa Cutrell.
Cutrell is the public affairs officer for the Student and Exchange Visitor Program or SEVP. SEVP is a part of the National Security Investigations Division and acts as a bridge for government organizations that have an interest in information on non-immigrants whose primary reason for coming to the United States is to be students.
Once a foreigner is granted the student visa, they have 10 days to check-in with school administrators like Kent Robertson. He’s the assistant recruitment director at Southern Adventist University. Part of his job is to enter information about foreign students into a government database called The Student and Exchange Visitor Information System or (SEVIS).
"I go in and note this person is here. This terms ends for our current term in December and the next term starts on January 12. That checks the student in for the academic term," Robertson said.
But what happens if a student does not check-in and the school has made numerous attempts to contact that person?
"Their record at that point will be timed out by that same student and exchange visitor program and that immediately notifies immigration," Robertson said.
Once Immigration officials are notified, they begin an investigation into that students whereabouts. And that’s when the student is in serious trouble with federal authorities.
"Then they’re considered out of status and their case is referred to our counter terrorism and criminal exploitation unit. They have a sub-group within that unit that investigates visa overstays specifically," Cutrell said.
When that person is captured, they could face deportation.
But even when a student checks in with school officials, they are still under a watchful eye.
School officials are required to report to federal authorities every time a student moves from location to the next. They are also required to prove that student is in good academic standing with the university.