Federal law prompts revision of state foreign student monitoring bill

by Mike Zacharias

Federal law is forcing state representatives to rethink their approach to monitoring international students in Minnesota.

A section of the state House’s anti-terrorism bill – which would require universities and colleges to monitor international students and report them to the state attorney general – will undergo changes to concur with federal law.

The Immigration and Naturalization Service will still monitor international students because of the USA Patriot Act, said Christine Maziar, dean of the graduate school and vice president for research.

The original text of the state House’s bill would require the University to report information such as international students’ addresses in their country of citizenship, Minnesota addresses, areas of study and the date their studies conclude.

But a federal law, the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act, protecting the privacy of students’ educational records, prohibits the release of their information to state agencies.

“Since (FERPA) is a federal law, the federal government can adjust the law for federal purposes,” Maziar said.

This tracking of international students will require the work of the University as well as federal agencies.

The U.S. State Department will issue visas to prospective international students, Maziar said. When students enter the United States, the INS will inform the University of their arrival. If the student does not register for classes, the University must inform the INS within 30 days of the registration deadline.

The Patriot Act appropriated more than $36 million for the implementation of a foreign student tracking system by Jan. 1, 2003.

Rep. John Tuma, R-Northfield, a co-author of the bill, said he is working with the INS and school officials to amend the language to allow Minnesota Department of Public Safety access to the federal information.

“Our focus has now changed to see if we can get the DPS connected to the INS system,” Tuma said.

He said both school and INS officials want local law enforcement involved.

There were no set guidelines in the past for reporting international students who did not register for class, said Kay Thomas, director of the University’s International Student Services program.

“Right now, we report when we’re asked,” she said.

Thomas said the University is working with the PeopleSoft computer system to relay information to the INS in compliance with the Patriot Act.

Only 2 percent of temporary visas issued to enter the United States are for students, Thomas said, but attention is not being paid to the other 98 percent.

Yachuan Pu, a biomedical engineering graduate student from Cheng du, China, said tracking international students is an acceptable way to protect against terrorists.

His only fear about the legislation, he said, is if students are being tracked just because they are from a certain country.

“It’s not our right to be taken advantage of, for any reason,” Pu said.

Both the Senate and Gov. Jesse Ventura have written anti-terrorism bills, but neither require state tracking of international students.

Sen. Jane Ranum, DFL-Minneapolis, said the Senate did not add an international student tracking provision because of the Patriot Act.

“We didn’t think we needed to do anything,” Ranum said.