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USF charges unique international fee

After the Sept. 11 attacks, U.S. immigration rules have become more strict. The government now requires all universities to track international students through a Student and Exchange Visitor Information System.

This SEVIS fee is placed on all international students entering the United States in order to pursue a degree and “is payable one time for each single educational program which an F-1 student participates,” according to the University of Central Florida’s home page. Both UCF and the University of Florida charge their international students a one- time fee of $100.

However, at USF, the Web site states that “all international students enrolled at USF will be charged $50 per semester of enrollment.” According to David Austell, director of International Student and Scholar Services, the fee was necessary because of recent budget cuts.

“Everywhere in the university, money funds were moved from academic support to teaching and research,” Austell said. “It affected many departments, including ours.”

At USF this fee has changed its name from SEVIS to International Student Administrative Charge (SIAC).

“If we don’t have the SIAC the money has to come from somewhere else,” Austell said. “If we pull them away from teaching it doesn’t help any of us.” SIAC contribute to run the ISSS’ everyday business.

“We are attempting to offer first-quality service making sure international students feel secure and successful,” Austell said. “These things cost.”

Not only does USF require international students to pay this fee while they are enrolled as students, but also a fee is demanded when international students apply for Optional Practical Training. OPT is an authorization that gives international students a work authorization for one year after graduation.

According to USF’s web page, “International students choosing to engage in Optional Practical Training or Academic Training after completion of studies will pay the SIAC, a sum of $150, at the time of application.”

Austell said it was necessary since the department keeps the student files active and offers counseling and advising even after graduation.

“We are operating in the same environment,” Austell said. “The reality is that we have to pay salaries here and the issue of funding has been hard to deal with.”

Austell said he understands that it hurts and that it is not an optimal way of ensuring payment of the OPT.

According to the UCF and UF Web sites, an OPT fee is not charged.

Austell said that this might be because UF is generating a lot of money from tuition from its large enrollment, which is twice as large as USF. At UCF, the school is still working on what the needs are, said Austell.

“It is a more complex issue than simply charging a fee,” Austell said. “SIAC is being dealt with on several levels. The purpose is to come up with a way which is sensible to the community.”

With the extra fees mentioned above and the high tuition for international students, it is not surprising if the enrollment of international students continues to drop.

“SIAC fee cannot be seen as an issue isolated from other issues with internationals,” Austell said. “(In) fall of 2001, we had 2,500 international students. Since 9/11, the number is eroding. We work at recruiting and attracting international students. It is a university concern, not only a concern of international students. We want to strengthen diversity.”

Rakel Thjomoe, a former international student at USF, experienced the extra fee when she applied for OPT last year.

“It is unfair that international students at USF are penalized for budget cuts when other universities don’t charge these fees,” Thjomoe said.

Austell said that because of the many applicants of OPT who continue to use ISSS’ services, they have to charge a fee. The OPT process is another year of service and the fee is based on a whole year.

“I understand the painfulness of paying a lot of money at once,” Austell said. “We have to come up with a better way, and I suspect we will.”