International students’ credit card use tracked by INS

by Elizabeth Dunbar

The federal government now has Ali Nasiri-Amini’s credit card number.

“Do you want to charge me for this service?” he said he asked a government official jokingly during his special registration interview last Wednesday.

The official replied the information would only be put into a computer database, Nasiri-Amini said.

But the government will keep track of any transactions the University graduate student from Iran makes on the card as part of its new special registration and tracking system. The system requires thousands of male foreigners in the United States to go to Immigration and Naturalization Service offices for an interview under oath and to be fingerprinted and photographed.

So far, nonimmigrant male foreigners from 18 countries face deadlines for the registration, and the system will eventually include all countries, according to an INS official.

“My impression is that essentially, the INS is making a point to let these young men know that they’re being watched,” said Luis Bartolomei, the immigration attorney for the University Student Legal Service.

After talking with colleagues in other states, Bartolomei said the INS interviews have not yet caused problems.

“We’re all sort of waiting to see what happens with this,” he said. “So far it seems like a long but relatively smooth process.”

Nasiri-Amini said his interview took 25 minutes, and he did not have to wait in one of the INS’ notoriously long lines to be seen because priority is given to people coming in for the special registration.

The interview consisted of several questions, including who his friends are, his parents’ names, addresses and marital status, and his credit card number, Nasiri-Amini said.

“I expected something much worse,” he said, explaining that he was fingerprinted and photographed two years ago when he arrived at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport.

The process was less intimidating this time, he said, because his fingers were pressed on a computer scanner for prints instead of in ink.

In addition, he said, the government officials were not threatening.

“It doesn’t bother me that they have this information if they don’t make any trouble for me,” he said.

Craig Peterson, assistant director for University International Student and Scholar Services, said the special registration requirements affect approximately 55 University students and scholars. But the number could be more because of dual citizenship, he said.

The international services office is working with INS officials to make it easier for students to comply with the new regulations. But for now, students and scholars from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Syria and Sudan face a Dec. 16 deadline, and those from 13 additional countries announced Nov. 22 must report by Jan. 10.

Bartolomei and Peterson said they are disappointed the INS has not done more to inform people about the special registration requirements.

“We’re concerned that not everyone knows about it,” Peterson said, adding that only approximately one third of the University’s international students are on the international service office’s listserv.

“What are the chances that someone with limited proficiency in English will be able to find that information?” Bartolomei said.

Information about the other 13 countries added to the special registration list – which include Afghanistan, Somalia and North Korea – still has not appeared on the INS Web site.

“We’re in the process of getting the information out to all the immigrant communities in the Twin Cities,” a local INS official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said Nov. 26.

Nasiri-Amini said if he had known about the security regulations before he moved to the United States to continue his education, he would have gone elsewhere to study.

“Right now I regret it. I wish I had gone to Canada,” he said, adding he was accepted into a similar electrical engineering program there. “It makes me sad, but I made my choice, and I’m not going to just give up after two years.”

Nasiri-Amini also said he thinks the new system is illogical.

“If it is a requirement for all, that’s fine, but for right now it is discrimination based on religion and nationality,” he said.

Bartolomei said he thinks the added security regulations could affect the numbers of international students who study in the United States.

“I don’t know if a foreign student coming here to do research is going to want to put up with that,” he said.

Elizabeth Dunbar covers international affairs and welcomes comments at [email protected]