New bill to ease foreign visa policy

by Matthew Gruchow

Prompted by decreasing rates of international students entering the United States, Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., has authored a bill to reverse the trend by easing the government’s entry procedures.

Introduced in July, the bill would simplify visa and entry processes for foreign students who want to study in the United States, according to a written statement.

Graduate school applications decreased 32 percent nationwide during the last year, according to the bill.

“We are missing a great opportunity to educate future foreign leaders here in America,” Coleman said in the statement.

The bill is now in the Senate Judiciary Committee. John Engelen, University Relations director, said he doubts the bill will be considered this year because of a full legislative calendar.

The Bush administration has been supportive of fixing visa procedural problems, he said.

The bill would ensure foreign students are treated fairly but won’t compromise security, he said.

Former University President Nils Hasselmo, now president of the Association of American Universities, said changes are needed to encourage more international students to study in the country.

“I think we need to do everything we can to send a strong message that international students are welcome,” Hasselmo said.

Coleman’s bill is a positive step toward ending the decline of international students coming to the University, said Gene Allen, director of the Office of International Programs.

“When the final count is in this fall on new international students, it now appears fairly certain that it will be down in a significant manner as we predicted it would be,” Allen said.

International students and their dependents are responsible for adding $12 billion to the U.S. economy every year, he said.

“International students pay out-of-state tuition, which helps to hold down in-state tuition at a time when costs are already skyrocketing for Minnesota’s students,” Coleman said.

In fall 2003, 47 percent of surveyed foreign student advisers saw declines in graduate and undergraduate enrollments, according to a report by the Council of Graduate Schools.

The majority said visa denials and delays were key factors in the decline, the report said.

International students want a U.S. education but will seek out schools in other countries, because of current U.S. visa policies, said Aditya Malhotra, a senior engineering student from India and vice president of the Minnesota International Student Association.

“Someone from the Middle East has a very weak chance of getting a visa, so he will take his chances with a place like Australia,” he said.

Senior engineering student Manish Prahladka said there is still a lot of confusion about the visa process for students, and the bill should simplify and clarify the system, he said.

The government should make the visa process the same for all international students. The current system requires some foreign students to obtain a special security clearance in addition to a visa, he said.

“It really needs a big change. I think it’s kind of discriminating, the visa process,” Manish said.

“The amount of time it takes right now, you have to plan the visa process six months to a year in advance, and it makes a lot of problems for some students.”