State Department Proposes Revised Rules for Exchange Visitor Programs
September 23, 2009
The chief financial officer would be required to certify annually that the institution provides adequate resources and oversight of exchange visitor programs under revised rules proposed by the Department of State on September 22. Exchange visitor programs bring foreign nationals to the United States as students, short-term scholars, teachers, professors, and research scholars (and several other categories not relevant to academic institutions).
The regulations would also be updated to encompass use of the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS), increase insurance requirements, require more frequent redesignation as an eligible program, and require criminal background checks for responsible officers. Comments are due November 23.
In recent years, State Department officials have expressed concerns to NACUBO that many academic exchange visitor programs suffer from lax institutional oversight and would benefit from more attention from the business office. The proposed regulations would require-presumably in response to these concerns-the institution's chief financial officer to sign the following certification as part of the annual report each program must submit through SEVIS:
I have reviewed this report of my organization's operation of a Department of State designated exchange visitor program and hereby certify that adequate staff and resources are devoted to the administration and oversight of this program and that internal controls adequate to ensure regulatory compliance are in place.
Regulations governing the Exchange Visitor Program have not been updated for 15 years. A number of the proposed changes would revise the regulations to reflect current State Department procedures, most notably the use of the secure SEVIS database for tracking students and exchange visitors in the United States. To enhance security, each institution's responsible officer (RO) and alternate responsible officers (AROs) would need to undergo criminal background checks. Other proposed changes include:
- Requiring on-site reviews of new organizations applying to participate in the program. Site visits of existing sponsors would be at the discretion of the State Department. The program sponsor would bear the costs.
- Shortening the maximum period for designation as a sponsor to two years, rather than five and requiring submission of additional documents with the application, including financial statements and, for private institutions, IRS Form 990.
- Increasing the amount of health insurance carried by exchange visitors from $50,000 per accident or illness to $200,000, with corresponding increases in other insurance ($25,000 for repatriation of remains, $50,000 for medical evacuation).
- Decreasing from 30 days to 10 days the amount of time a sponsor has to inform the State Department of material changes to its program, including a change of RO or ARO, financial status, address or phone numbers, and loss or theft of Forms DS-2019.
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