in the Crossfire
security measures will affect
foreign students and host universities
We are, so the myth goes, "a nation of
immigrants." The tides of welcome, however, ebb and flow
with the times, as one can see from such shameful examples
as the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and the refusal of entry
to the refugee ship St. Louis in 1939.
Today we are again at ebbthis time in
a way that may affect foreign students in American colleges
and universities, as well as American students who contemplate
I do think there are going to be changes
in the student visa system, said Cas Sowa, Moravians
director of international study. Thats a given.
One of the aftereffects of September 11 is
a virtual shutdown of the national immigration system, in
response to admissions from the Immigration and Naturalization
Service that it is too overworked, understaffed, and backlogged
to keep track of resident aliens in the United States. Members
of the al-Qaeda network lived and worked in this country for
months preceding the terrorist attacks. Several, including
at least one hijacker, entered the country on student visas;
and no safeguards existed to make sure they enrolled at the
colleges stated in their paperwork or to track their newfound
interest in flight-training schools.
In fact, Sowa said, the INS had been planning
a tracking program for students as long as four or five years
ago. After a pilot version was set in place in several Southern
states, the system was to have expanded to the whole country
this year. But objections from college administrators of foreign-student
programs, often about privacy issues and system processes
, set the schedule back.
Then came September 11. But, as with the failure of airport
security systems, the innocent are now being punished along
withand sometimes more thanthe guilty.
The first responses were draconian. Sen. Dianne
Feinstein (D-Calif.) proposed legislation to place a moratorium
on student visas for at least six months and to provide $32.3
million to the INS to implement an electronic tracking system
for all visa-holders and resident aliens. The moratorium has
since been shelved and the funding substantially reduced.
It also has been proposed that the foreign students themselves
pay for the tracking system with a $95 fee.
According to a Fox News report, there are
some 500,000 foreign students enrolled in American colleges
and universities. Between 10,000 and 11,000 are from countries
with ties to international terrorism such as Libya, Iraq,
and Sudan. Many of these students, politically opposed to
their own governments, are virtual refugees; but others have
been shown to be using student visas for cover.
Visas are issued at American consulates in
the students country of origin, and poor coordination
of intelligence material is blamed for what has been a rubber-stamp
process. Consular officers have no access to FBI or CIA databases
that might indicate questions about an applicants political
But student visas represent about 2 percent
of all visas, Sowa said. This whole response is so short-sighted.
It makes it possible for [the government] to say Weve
done something about this ... to make themselves look
responsive to recent events.
With the prospect of visa restrictions in
view, higher education officials have issued cautions and
warnings. The open admissions policy of the American higher
education system has fostered enormous political and economic
goodwill. But as with anything that has taken a long time
to build, it can be destroyed overnight.
The loss to the United States in terms
of intellectual accomplishment ... and economic activity will
be enormous, said David Ward, president of the American
Council on Education, whose membership comprises most American
colleges and universities. It will take decades to undo
the damage that even a temporary ban will create.
The largest enrollments of foreign students
are at the University of Southern California, New York University,
and the University of Wisconsin at Madison, according to ACE.
Moravian, by contrast, has 26 foreign students, from countries
ranging from the Czech Republic to Lebanon and Ethiopia to
Sowa says he has not been asked by the INS
or any other agency to provide foreign-student records, either
voluntarily or under subpoena. But several large universities
have done so unasked.
The other side of the problem is the effect
on American students who want to study abroad. Though expressions
of interest at Moravian seem to be at their usual level, some
schools already report a decline in inquiries about foreign