The Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) is a database which is maintained by the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) and used by the Department of Homeland Security. SEVIS is accessible online and helps the Department of Homeland Security monitor and collect information about scholars, exchange students, and international students who are in the US. Any visa holder with an F visa, J visa, or M visa is likely in the SEVIS database.
An initial database system for tracking international students was created after IIRIRA (The Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 was passed. That act, passed by congress, required the creation of a database to track students entering the US. IIRIRA was created after an International student, Eyad Ismoil, became part of the 1993 World Trade Center attacks after dropping out of school in the US and disappearing from immigration officials. At the time, many student visas were processed by hand, making it hard to track fraud as well as students who overstayed their student visas.
The initial database was proven ineffective once again in the September 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center. After the attacks, it was revealed that one of the attackers, Hani Hanjour, had entered the US on a student visa. Hanjour never attended classes or visited a campus – he exploited the visa simply to enter the US. The database and officials failed to notice the discrepancy or to track Hanjour until the attacks. As a result of the attacks, the USA Patriot Act was passed by congress. The act, among other things, again required the creation of a new database in digitized form to track visitors and students within the US. This time, however, finances were raised for the project and SEVIS was created.
As of January 2003, any programs and schools in the US who have international scholars and students are required to use SEVIS in accordance with federal reporting guidelines. Since its launch, SEVIS has undergone several revisions and new versions to fix technical issues and to make the database more user-friendly.
SEVIS is accessed by Designated School Officials (DSO’s), who must be either US permanent residents or citizens in order to access the database. Schools and educational programs are required to report all the international scholars and students in their community via SEVIS. They must also use SEVIS to report changes of name, address, field of study, degree level, financial aid, and employment for every international student. If an international student is convicted of a crime, placed on academic probation, found to be taking a job illegally, or has failed to enroll at the school, these things must also be reported to SEVIS by the school. These items are a violation of the student visa.