Senator proposes student visa halt

by Abdel Shakur

In reaction to security concerns following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, California Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D) announced a proposal she said will restore integrity to the foreign student visa process.

The Feinstein bill, which has drawn criticism nationwide, would enact a six-month moratorium on foreign student visas and provide $32.3 million to the Immigration and Naturalization Service for implementation of an electronic student-tracking system. Feinstein said the moratorium would allow the INS to fully develop its foreign student tracking system and identify students who have violated the terms of their visas.

Feinstein’s proposal comes in light of reports that Hani Hanjour, one of the suspected terrorists in the Pentagon attack, had enrolled at Holy Names College in Oakland, Calif., but never attended classes.

“Today, there is little scrutiny given to those who claim to be foreign students seeking study in the United States,” Feinstein, a Democrat, said in a news release. “In fact, the foreign student visa program is one of the most unregulated and exploited visa categories.”

The system would also be upgraded to include information about the spouses and children of foreign students and those holding tourist and temporary business visas.

Under the proposal, colleges and universities would also be required to regularly report to the INS information about foreign students. This information would include academic status, types of courses taken and any disciplinary action taken against the student as a result of a crime.

“We have real concerns about the Feinstein proposal,” said Kay Thomas, director of the International Student Scholar Services.

“It seems excessive to stop all students from coming in. Especially since they haven’t completely confirmed the identities of terrorists,” Thomas said.

According to Thomas, international students’ relationship with colleges and universities already make them the most-tracked visa-holding group.

“The largest majority of students are well-meaning and honest. It doesn’t seem fair to do this to all of them,” she said.

Although Thomas agrees increased tracking might be necessary, she doesn’t think the proposal takes into account foreign students’ contributions.

“Barring international students will put us at a real disadvantage,” said Thomas. “Except for interactions on campus, some students never get the opportunity for real-life exposure to people from other countries. We need that diversity.”

University senior Sulieman Nader, who is Jordanian, said he is worried he might be personally affected by the proposal.

“I am an Arab. When they start talking about screening students, I’m concerned about what it might lead to. I feel like they are talking about me,” he said.

Nader said that many international students have already been affected by Feinstein’s proposal.

“A lot of students are afraid to go home and visit their families because they don’t know if they’ll be allowed back into the country,” he said.

He described the current student visa procedure as strict and recalled that on the day he applied for a student visa in Jordan, he was the only person approved out of more than 100 applicants.

Nader, who serves as president of the Minnesota International Student Association, said that although he understands the need to track foreign students, he disagrees with student visa suspension.

“I hope they don’t cut themselves off from the rest of the world. I hope they don’t go against the principles that this country was built on,” he said.

Abdel Shakur welcomes comments at [email protected]