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Improving Data Integrity in U.S. Government Systems with Information on Nonimmigrant Students

This FAQ is to help the designated school official (DSO) assist with improving the data integrity in U.S. government systems that maintain information on nonimmigrant students. It also provides information that the DSO can use to guide prospective nonimmigrant students and help ensure that the data on them is consistent and accurate.

The information in this FAQ applies primarily to data entered into the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) and the information the student provides on his or her visa application and on the Form I-94, Arrival/Departure Record. However, DSOs and students should carefully check other U.S. government-issued documentation to ensure consistency.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) relies on a number of data systems to track and monitor nonimmigrant students in the United States. DHS and other government agencies use these systems to verify status and eligibility for benefits. Anomalies in the data on a particular individual may indicate a potential status violation.

While most data anomalies are unintentional, they can waste limited resources for schools, students, and the government agencies. Data discrepancies from data entry errors are largely avoidable.

In the future, data systems will have design features to help eliminate most data discrepancies. Meanwhile, we need to take steps to improve data integrity. From earliest communication with your prospective nonimmigrant students, you need to emphasize where errors can occur and how they can help prevent them.

Most of the data systems with information about nonimmigrants depend on the consistent spelling of names, accurate dates, country of origin (birth), and country of citizenship. Other information is important, but these data elements are most critical.

For example, the Social Security Administration (SSA) identifies Form I-94, Arrival/ Departure Record, discrepancies as the primary reason for delays in issuing Social Security numbers (SSN) to nonimmigrants.

How should names be entered into SEVIS?

Name submissions must be consistent on all official travel documents (passports, Forms I-20, and Forms I-94). The earliest official document sets the standard. For most nonimmigrant students, this is the SEVIS record that creates the initial Form I-20, Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Status.

  • When you create an initial record in SEVIS, use the name exactly as it appears on the nonimmigrant’s passport. If no passport is available use the name on the birth certificate (and marriage certificate if applicable). If neither of these documents is available, instruct the nonimmigrant to carefully verify spelling and name sequence.
  • If the student’s language uses an alphabet other than English, use the name provided by the student on his or her application. Be certain that the student understands the United States standards for first and last name, and enters this information correctly on application forms. If the nonimmigrant has only one name, this must be used as the last name.
    • Nonimmigrants with one name should be aware that some government officials enter the acronym FNU (first name unknown) in the first name block.
    • Conversely, some officials are not familiar with this acronym and look for the nonimmigrant to show that his or her first name is Fnu. The nonimmigrant should be able to explain the acronym if it is causing validation problems with any government process.
    • Do not use FNU in SEVIS.
  • Spacing is as important as spelling and must be consistent. For instance, systems will not read Mc Millan and McMillan as the same name.
  • Hyphens must also be consistent.
  • Consistency with capitalization is helpful, but not critical.
  • Name entries must be in English and must use standard United States characters. Letters like ñ, é, ü, ç are not recognized by the U.S. data systems. Enter names like Muñoz and Sémonin as Munoz and Semonin. Do not change spellings to reflect sounds of the language of origin.
  • Students must be consistent in how they enter last, first, and middle name. For example, some Mexican students may use their mother’s maiden name as part of their name. Sometimes it is given as a middle name and other times as part of a hyphenated last name. Either usage is acceptable, but one must be used consistently.

Please note that, if a nonimmigrant has a number of records where the spelling of the name is inconsistent, government officials are more likely to interpret this as a deliberate attempt at misrepresentation.

What is the proper format for entering dates?

Be very careful when entering dates. The date of birth is an especially critical data element. The U.S. standard for dates is mm/dd/yyyy, while most other countries use dd/mm/yyyy. However, not all of the U.S. government forms follow the U.S. standard.

The Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP), U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), and SSA forms use the U.S. standard, mm/dd/yyyy.

The Form I-94, as well as passports and birth certificates from most countries use the dd/mm/yyyy format.

The Form DS-156, Nonimmigrant Visa Application, uses dd/mmm/yyyy. The month should be the 3-letter English abbreviation, not numerals. To minimize mistakes, recommend that nonimmigrants use the E-form version of the Form DS 156 (available at http://evisaforms.state.gov/). This form has a drop down list for dates and some other critical data elements.

What do I need to consider when entering the country of origin (birth) and country of citizenship?

The country of origin (birth) is the country that issued the student’s birth certificate. U.S. government systems use a standard data table for this field. It should be the name of the country at the time of the student’s birth, even if that country no longer exists.

The country of citizenship is the country that issued (or will issue) the student’s passport. This data field is restricted to countries that currently exist.

 

Nonimmigrant students must assume ownership for the accuracy of their records and take responsibility to check their travel and admission forms when they are issued. Correcting mistakes on the spot is quicker and cheaper than delaying, and it prevents confusion. By accepting the conditions of their visa from the U.S. government, students have made legal commitments and need accurate records to verify their compliance.

Instruct nonimmigrant students to carefully review their Forms I-20 immediately after receipt.

  • If student has a passport, the information in the passport should match the information on the Form I-20.
  • If the student does not have a passport, he or she should ensure his or her passport application has the same name as that on the Form I-20.

If the Form I-20 information is wrong, the student should ask you for a replacement Form I-20 with corrected information. SEVIS allows you to edit and reprint a Form I-20.

Entry into the United States

Instruct your students to hand-carry all immigration documents. These documents will need to be presented at the port-of-entry. Nonimmigrant students cannot get their checked luggage before arrival processing. Lack of documentation delays processing and may result in denial of entry into the United States.

Nonimmigrant students should review the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) before traveling to the United States. It explains the purpose of the Form I-94 and briefly describes the arrival inspection process.

What is the Form I-94 and why is it important?

The Form I-94 is a critical record. It shows that a nonimmigrant has been legally admitted to the United States, the class of admission, and the authorized period of stay. It is very important that the information on the record is correct. Inconsistencies between the information on the Form I-94 and SEVIS records can reduce the chances of a successful systems interface. In particular, this can cause issues with status verification for Social Security numbers.

 

What is the DHS Verification Information System (VIS)?

The DHS Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements (SAVE) Program’s Verification Information System (VIS) is the primary data source for government agencies outside DHS to verify legal entry of a nonimmigrant into the United States and authorization to receive a benefit. Agencies using SAVE and VIS include the SSA and State Departments of Motor Vehicles. Employers may also use VIS to determine if they can legally employ a nonimmigrant.

Nonimmigrant data in VIS—the data transcribed from the Form I-94—is superceded by new data each time the individual reenters the United States. Given the frequency of travel and the limited application of VIS data, it is not feasible to correct data discrepancies. For SSA, there is a mechanism for secondary status verification using information from SEVIS.

How do I correct data in SEVIS and on the student’s Forms I-20?

When errors are found, correct SEVIS as soon as possible and print a corrected Form I-20. This is a reporting requirement and must be completed within the time frames defined in 8 CFR 214.3 (usually 21 days).

How does a nonimmigrant student have a Form I-94 corrected?

CBP reviews errors on Forms I-94 and issues a corrected form when necessary. The CBP website describes how to have a Form I-94 corrected.

What does a nonimmigrant student need to do to correct information in their passport?

Students should consult with their embassy to find out how to correct or update a passport. Most embassies will have a website with information for citizens.

Do nonimmigrant students need a corrected visa to remain in the United States?

No. Visas are used for entry into the United States. If discrepancies are noted while in the United States, they can be corrected when the student travels home. Consult the DOS website, http://travel.state.gov/visa/visa_1750.html for details.

Technically, visas can be corrected at any U.S. embassy/consulate outside the United States. However, if a DOS official is not able to verify eligibility from an application/correction at other than home country, the nonimmigrant will not be readmitted to the United States. It is highly recommended that adjustments to visas be sought at the issuing country.