New laws affect international study

The U.S. government’s crack-down on illegal immigration resulted in the passage last September of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act. This comprehensive act addresses such issues as border patrolling, female genital mutilation and deportation of foreign criminals. A few of its 600-odd sections, however, are troubling for educational institutions and foreign students and scholars. Although schools are still assessing the new law and awaiting regulations from the Immigration and Naturalization Service, several pertinent provisions are now in effect.
This legislation could have detrimental repercussions on international education. One section of the act, for instance, mandates severe penalties for international students, faculty members and researchers who remain in the United States unlawfully. Legal status can be lost if their visa expires or if they graduate, interrupt or terminate their program or fail to register full time. Without filing the necessary paperwork, these foreigners and their dependents could face deportation. F-1 visa holders have a 60-day grace period to apply for an extension; J-1 holders have a 30-day grace period.
Unfortunately, the INS does not guarantee extensions to overstayers, even if the violation is accidental. Overstayers who are denied new legal status must leave the United States within 30 days. To make matters worse, aliens can no longer apply in the United States for visas for another country. Another section eliminates consulate shopping and requires them to apply for visas in their home country except under extraordinary circumstances. Still another provision bars foreigners who previously stayed in the United States without valid status from re-entering the country. As of April 1, overstayers who live in the United States for six months will face a three-year ban. A 10-year ban will be imposed on overstayers who remain for 12 or more months.
International educators are also concerned with a section that sanctions a new foreign student and scholar tracking program. The INS is still working on the details of administering this provision. Literally, it states that by next January the Attorney General must track F- and J-visa holders and their dependents from five yet to be designated countries. By the start of 2003, the program will probably extend to all countries. Once this section is in effect, schools must report foreign students’ identity, U.S. address, legal and academic status, and any disciplinary action taken by the institution against convicted students or changes in their academic participation because of conviction.
Schools are also required to collect annual $25 to $100 fees from international students and scholars to help cover the cost of data collection. INS officials assert that fee collections will not begin until a one-year pilot program — which starts next fall — is completed. The INS is still finalizing regulation measures, but in the meantime more than 450,000 international students and scholars must vigilantly check their legal status and confer with international offices before venturing outside the United States. Clearly, the new law has raised the legal and financial stakes for aliens and educational institutions across the nation.