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Duke Database Helps Track International Students

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DURHAM, N.C. — The terrorist attacks of Sept.11 put foreigners in the spotlight. Many believed it was too easy for the hijackers to enter the United States.

The events prompted Duke University and the Immigration and Naturalization Service to create a database to better track foreign students.

There are 1,100 foreign students at Duke, all of whom had a barrage of paperwork to fill out during their first semester.

"When I first came here there was a lot of forms to fill out. I had to check in at the international office and I had to fill out seven or eight forms," student Anagha Gupte said.

What was once a time-consuming effort that could take months is about to be as easy as clicking a mouse.

"The plan is that whenever something happens with that student's life as a student, immigration will know about it," said Catheryn Cotten of Duke University.

Duke worked with the INS to develop a database called Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS). Every international student is assigned a bar code number as soon as he or she is accepted into a U.S. university.

Swift action by Congress to approve such a measure came after the events of Sept. 11.

"Students aren't terrorists. Terrorists are using student visas and the tourist visas and other visas to come into the U.S.," Cotten said."What this would help to prevent, one hopes, is the abusive use of student status by those who would come in to do us harm."

Duke is one of 21 schools across the country currently using the database. The new system will be mandatory for all colleges and universities by January 2003.