Visa policy might change

The change would let students re-enter the country without renewing their visas.

by Cati Vanden Breul

Re-entering the United States would become easier for some international students if the Department of Homeland Security changed a policy that requires them to renew visa clearances yearly.

The department began considering the change after repeated requests from higher education organizations.

The proposed change would allow students and scholars studying certain sciences to leave and re-enter the country throughout the duration of their studies in the United States, without having to renew their clearance.

In order to get clearance, international students who are in fields dealing with sensitive technologies must undergo a security check by the U.S. government.

After Sept. 11, 2001, and before 2003, international students under the clearance who left the United States were required to get renewed clearance every time they wished to re-enter the country. Because of inefficient procedures, many of the students faced long delays and were unable to return on time, Peterson said.

Following a decision by the Department of Homeland Security in December, international students have been eligible for a clearance of up to 12 months. The clearance allows them to leave and re-enter the country for a period of one year. To do this, they must return to the same U.S. government- sponsored program and engage in the same activities and duties.

However, even with the possibility of a 12-month clearance, many students encountered difficulties when they attempted to return to the United States, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Department of Homeland Security officials said current student visa policies have problems.

In the Aug. 27 edition of Science magazine, C. Stewart Verdery Jr., assistant secretary of Homeland Security for Border and Transportation Security Policy and Planning, said the Department of Homeland Security is aware the image of the United States as a “venue for research and scholarship has been suffering.”

“There is a sense it is almost impossible to come here as a student,” University Assistant Director for International Student and Scholar Services Craig Peterson said.

Peterson said he is “a little concerned” the University is losing international students to foreign universities.

“(Students) may be afraid of the level of tracking they are getting,” he said.

“It creates a psychological feeling that they are not wanted in the United States, that they are a threat,” he said.

Kay Thomas, director of International Student and Scholar Services, said international student enrollment has decreased since Sept. 11, 2001.

“Including the Patriot Act and the greater stringency of visa procedures, I think a number of things caused the decrease,” she said.

In the past, the United States has been the destination of many foreign students by default, Peterson said.

Countries such as Great Britain and Canada are now actively seeking international students, while the United States might be scaring them away, he said.

“A lot of conferences take place out of the United States and many students need to travel,” Peterson said. “Because they need to apply for clearance each time, they become trapped in the U.S and it is difficult to advise them to travel. They don’t get to do things others get to do.”

He said he is skeptical that any significant change will occur soon.

“It’s an ongoing process,” Peterson said. “We can see changes on a week-to-week basis.”