Senator proposes student visa policy changes

· Sep 30, 2001 Tweet

(U-WIRE) EUGENE, Ore. — A proposal by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., that calls for a six-month moratorium on international student visas has raised the ire of officials working with foreign-exchange programs.

“It is bad public policy,” said Kenneth Rogers, associate dean of international students at Indiana University. “A considerable number of tuition will be lost, and a lot of bright young scholars will be lost.”

The six-point proposal by Feinstein follows a string of major legislation aimed at reducing the threat of terrorism after the attacks of Sept. 11. Feinstein calls for changes in the way the Immigration and Naturalization Service tracks the nation’s 500,000 international students, including nearly 1,400 at the University of Oregon.

The senator’s proposals include the creation and funding of a database of international students, setting up new requirements for schools and universities and new INS admission procedures.

“[The proposals] may be controversial, but there has to be recognition that this is an unprecedented time in the country, and our national security depends on our system functioning to ensure that terrorists do not take advantage of the vulnerabilities in the student-visa program,” Feinstein said.

Feinstein first spoke of the proposals last Thursday in an interview with The New York Times. Although university and other higher education officials were not surprised by the proposals, many questioned the need for such strong measures.

“It would be a shame to see this kind of reaction in response to the events [of Sept. 11],” said Ginny Stark, associate director of the Office of International Education and Exchange.

Student leaders agreed.

“In the past, the Oregon Student Association has opposed any and all efforts to restrict access to education,” said Joelle Lester, OSA executive director.

A spokesman for Feinstein said higher-education officials were consulted during the formulation of the proposals, which attempt to fill in gaps in regulations in student visas.

“It was the educators who told us there were [visa] monitoring gaps,” said Jim Hock. “The student-visa category is the most unregulated and exploited visa category.”

Hock said reforms are necessary to the student-visa program because officials believe at least one of the suicide pilots involved in the attacks was enrolled at a college in Oakland, Calif., in November 2000, but never appeared at school. He also said the proposals should come before a committee in the next two weeks.

Many officials lay fault on lax processes by the INS. Stark said all international students must go through rigorous application and screening processes before being accepted to the university.

However, once the student enters the university, “there is never any follow-up by the INS,” Stark said. After international students have entered the country, Stark said, the INS should do a better job in tracking students’ movements.

Academic officials and the federal government have often been at odds over many issues relating to international students. Many universities, as well as NAFSA: Association of Higher Educators, complained this summer about the rising number of student-visa rejections in some countries, notably China. Also, many officials fought with the INS over the proposed Student and Exchange Visitor Program, a database which will track international students and scholars. At one point, the INS attempted to force universities to collect a $95 fee from each international student to pay for the program.

Feinstein’s proposals address many issues surrounding the database, including full financial support. Rogers, who is also the chairman of a consular-affairs working group for NAFSA, fears the database will be too obtrusive and error-prone.

“The government has the need to obtain information, and I don’t have an issue there,” Rogers said. “The potential for abuse and fraud is enormous. We all know how hard it is to change federal records when something wrong goes in.”


This article was published Sep 30, 2001 at 12:00 am and last updated Sep 30, 2001 at 12:00 am


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