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Katie Westerlund, SEVP, USA

We’re doing a holistic take of what OPT [optical practical training] is and certainly amplifying the message that is already in the regulations about when reporting needs to happen about student employment; information about employers. All of those will be amplified through FAQs and guidance that we are developing.

"I think it is a fantastic site, providing up-to-date info about SEVP and issues that international students may have such as 'I’m going home for vacation, what does that mean when I return?'"

The PIE: In terms of enhancements being made to the SEVIS system- I was interested in address validation..
KW: The technology is there to check now for U.S. addresses, postal addresses. There are lot of enhancements going into SEVIS to provider better data quality and that’s one piece of it.

“There are other folks in the US who are in need of English who may not be eligible for an F visa”

The PIE: Anything else you think will be welcomed by the sector?
KW: We will be enhancing date reporting within OPT. A lot of it is procedural and technology has changed enough so that we can make it easier to use. We want to make it drop-down focused, using as much available public information within the system.

The PIE: The Study in the States website, has that helped the message that the US in terms of welcoming of international students because before that there was nothing..
KW: There certainly was a concerted effort to promote it. The website averages 32,500 visitors each month and in May and June we saw an increase with 50,000 visitors each month.

Studyin States

The Study in the States homepage

I think it is a fantastic site, providing up-to-date info about SEVP and issues that international students may have such as “I’m going home for vacation, what does that mean when I return?” It has fresh and user-friendly information.

The PIE: Is there an ability for a new school to open or is there now a blackhole for new schools starting given they have to operate before gaining accreditation.
KW: Well they have to meet eligibility. You usually have to show you’re a bonafide school and you have to have been in operation in order to establish eligibility. If you’re looking strictly at English language schools, then you have to be accredited in order to be able to be eligible to be certified at this point, to certify F status.

There are other folks in the US who are in need of English who may not be eligible for an F visa but who may be here on some other types of visa and can study incidental to their main visa status.

The PIE: What are you hoping the sector will look like in five years’ time?
KW: I imagine that everything will be a little smoother once all guidance is in place and people are clear on our expectations. If they are not clear, then I hope they let us know that so we can refine and get that message out. That’s part of our stakeholder engagement. We have this fine line as an organization with a mission to balance national security but also provide the opportunity for legitimate students to come to the United States and attend legitimate schools. It’s a fine line.

“We have over a million people coming in to be students or exchange visitors and their dependents are part of the process as well”

It’s a balance every country has to wrestle with and unfortunately there are forces that seek out loopholes..
And we have to look for those.

The PIE: Commentators are saying US will become even more pro-active in recruiting internationally. Do you feel that is current atmosphere in the sector?
KW: There is certainly an emphasis on inbound traffic with 100K strong [reciprocal initiatives] that are being promoted by other government partners. We have over a million people coming in to be students or exchange visitors and their dependents are part of the process as well. We have seen consistent growth even after 9/11, and I think we’ll continue to see the numbers rise.

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