MEMORANDUM


TO:  Deans, Directors, & Department Chairpersons
FROM:  David Bryan Clubb Director
DATE:  October 17, 2003
RE: REVISED Deadlines for Submission of Admission Letters to the Office of International Services for Processing and Issuance of Visa Documents for International Students



 

PLEASE READ CAREFULLY AND DISSEMINATE WIDELY.

Nearly one year ago on January 13, 2003, the Office of International Services (OIS) disseminated a memorandum setting forth fixed deadlines by which OIS must receive all completed application materials from an academic unit at Pitt and from an international student in order to issue the required visa document (Form I-20 or Form DS-2019), if applicable, for the term for which the student was admitted.  That memo was in response to major changes in U.S. immigration law/regulations that required more time for OIS to prepare the visa documents and more time for the international student to secure the required U.S. entry visa from a U.S. Embassy or Consulate abroad.   In addition, the memo made clear that the establishment of such deadlines would create greater efficiency in OIS and ensure realistic expectations throughout the University regarding the ability of an international student to begin his/her program of study during the term for which he/she was admitted.

While these deadlines have worked reasonably well in accomplishing the aforementioned goals/objectives, they are now in need of revision due to the many additional major changes in U.S. immigration law/regulations, as well as changes in visa issuance policy, since the establishment of the original deadlines on January 13, 2003.  These changes include, but are not limited to, the following:

• On March 1, 2003, the functions of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) were moved into three separate agencies within the newly created U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) – U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services (CIS), U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE), and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP).

• On May 21, 2003, the Department of State dispatched a cable to all diplomatic and consular posts establishing a new policy that now requires all nonimmigrant visa applicants to be interviewed as part of the visa issuance process.  This cable was codified on July 7, 2003 in the publication of an Interim Final Rule in the Federal Register.

• On October 27, 2003, DHS published the long-awaited proposed Student & Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) fee rule, and provided a 60-day public comment period.  DHS proposed that the fee be the statutory maximum of $100 ($35 for J summer work/travel, camp counselors, and au pairs) and must be paid prior to applying for a U.S. entry visa.  Exactly when the fee requirement will become effective depends on how long DHS takes to publish a final or interim final rule after the public comment period ends.  It is expected that the rule will be finalized in time for implementation to begin with the Fall 2004 incoming international student class (as well as incoming international scholars).  This is expected to cause further delays in visa issuance.

• On October 28, 2003, DHS announced details of the U.S.-VISIT (U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology) program, which, according to a DHS press release, will “record the entry and exit of non-U.S. citizens into and out of the United States, and provide officials with information about persons who are in the United States in violation of the terms of their admission to the United States.”  This new system may cause further delays with entry to and exit from the United States.  Under the new system, visitors initially will encounter an inkless fingerprint scanner and a camera at U.S. air and sea ports of entry and later at land points.  The biometrics will be checked against terrorist watch lists each time they enter the United States.  Exit points will also be established under the U.S.-VISIT program.  DHS officials plan to have the entry technology implemented at 115 airports and 14 seaports by January 5, 2004, with the exit system running at up to 30 of the top airports, which cover 95 percent of the air traffic.  U.S.-VISIT is expected to be fully implemented by 2006.  For more information, go to http://www.dhs.gov/us-visit.

• In late October 2003, the Secretary of the Department of State and the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security signed a formal Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), which outlines the roles of each department in the making of visa policy and processing of visa applications, pursuant to the changes set forth in Section 428 of the Homeland Security Act of 2002, which transferred visa policy authority to DHS.

All of these changes are significant and have resulted in major policy and procedure shifts with which international students and scholars must comply in order to enter the U.S. to begin their programs of study and/or research.  The U.S. Department of State has posted advisory notices on its website indicating that international students and scholars must “apply (for their visas) early,” which they have generally defined as “at least 90 days prior to their anticipated program start date.”

With this in mind, it is important that OIS work closely with all academic units to ensure that the required visa documents are sent to prospective international students or scholars well in advance of their anticipated start dates so that they have time to secure the necessary entry visa and otherwise make all arrangements to enter the United States.  The current visa document issuance deadlines no longer provide sufficient time.  Therefore, in order to adapt to the new realities of immigration laws/regulations and visa issuance policy, and in order to ensure more efficient and effective service, OIS has revised the deadlines regarding the issuance of visa documents to prospective international students.  Following are the new deadlines:
 

FALL  June 1st  (was previously July 1st)
SPRING October 1st (was previously November 1st)
SUMMER March 1st
 

These deadlines are the absolute last date by which OIS will accept completed application materials from the academic unit and from the international student in order to issue the required visa document (Form I-20 or Form DS-2019), if applicable, for the term for which the international was admitted.  More specifically, by the date indicated, OIS must receive the following:

1. For all graduate students, a completed International Graduate Student Supplemental Application Packet, which includes the Certification of Financial Responsibility.  Graduate schools, programs or departments are responsible for collecting this supplemental material from the student and then forwarding to the OIS.
2. For undergraduate students, a completed International Undergraduate Student Application & Information Form, which includes the Certification of Financial Responsibility.
3. An admission decision letter from the academic unit, including documentation of any financial support award offer.
4. For all graduate students, proof of the student’s acceptance of the offer of admission.  For all undergraduate students, the required tuition deposit.
5. The English Language Proficiency Report.

We strongly recommend that each academic unit clearly communicate these deadlines to prospective international students in the letter of admission so that they are aware of the need to respond to the academic unit in a timely manner with the confirmation of their acceptance of the offer of admission.  In turn, the academic unit will need to forward all required information to OIS in a timely manner.  OIS will strictly enforce these deadlines.

Please share this information with your faculty and staff members.  If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact the Office of International Services at 4.7120.  Thank you.
 

c: Elizabeth U. Baranger
 Jack L. Daniel