Before he could study at the University, international student Aditya Malhotra said his visa application was checked by the CIA and FBI, and he was interviewed by the government for security purposes.
But according to a report by the U.S. Department of Commerce, the process is not secure enough.
The report, released in March 2004, said the current export controls sometimes do not stop the “transfer of sensitive technology to foreign nations.”
As a result, the government has proposed a new federal law that would require students from “countries of concern” to apply for hundreds of export licenses to use “dual-use technology,” such as microscopes, electrical equipment, computer software or any other technology that has both military and civilian use.
The “countries of concern” are China, Cuba, India, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Libya, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, Sudan and Syria. If the law goes into effect, students from these countries would be required to get export licenses before they could use dual-use technology.
Malhotra is studying electrical engineering and is also vice president of the Minnesota International Student Association. He said the proposal is “kind of surprising.”
“Why should we need permission to use something that every student uses?” he said.
The international student population is small enough, he said, and this will probably result in a decrease in international student enrollment and input in technology fields.
“If the University wants to be one of the top three research universities in the country, it would go way down in ranking with less publication,” University alumnus Ashutosh Jaiswal said.
The U.S. Department of Commerce declined to comment on the report, but Carolyn Croak, the acting council to the inspector general at the U.S. Department of Commerce, said the department lets its reports speak for themselves.
“Our reports stand on their own,” she said.
Victor Bloomfield, interim dean of the Graduate School and vice provost for research, said the proposed law could be a “serious problem.”
He said graduate schools in the United States are worried about severe restrictions on international students.
“This is to our competitive disadvantage,” he said.
But University student Tony Richter said the law could be good.
“Any time we’re taking prudent steps to ensure safety is a good thing, as long as it is done correctly and respects the people involved,” he said.
Jaiswal, who graduated from the Graduate School, said that if the law was in place while he was studying, he would have never attended the University or any other graduate school.
Instead, he said, he would have stayed in India and gotten a job.
“I think it’s going to slow things down and discourage people from doing research,” he said.
International students’ tuition is approximately $21,000 per semester at the University.
Computer engineering student and Minnesota International Student Association President Kapil Bansal, who is an international student from India, said he is always willing to follow government precautions and laws, but this one is “just really stupid,” “ridiculous” and makes “no sense.”
He said the fact that the person was allowed into the country in the first place means he or she is safe enough.
But Jason Baskin, College Republicans chairman, said his initial thought was that “the idea behind the law is a good one.”
“Any law like this tries to balance between trying to provide freedom and access to all people and provide security for all people,” Baskin said.
Unfortunately, he said, “international students are innocent victims caught between two forces of civil liberties and trying to protect the homeland.”
The State Department held a public comment period on the proposal until May 27. The department can put the law into effect without congressional approval.