(U-WIRE) PHILADELPHIA ? Concern among international students and higher education officials erupted once again Monday when President Bush announced that the White House would be involved in the crackdown on visas and immigration policies following last month’s terrorist attacks.
Ever since Immigration and Naturalization Service officials announced that two of the suspected Sept. 11 hijackers were traveling with student visas, the visa system has faced heavy criticism. Now, the president’s involvement with this issue has taken the debate over student visas to a new level.
In his proposal, Bush said that he intended to revamp immigration policies so that it would be harder for terrorists to enter and stay in the United States.
While the student visa system has been under Congressional scrutiny ever since the attacks, this is the first time that Bush has expressed interest in being directly involved in immigration policies.
“International students add greatly to the vitality and quality of our nation’s colleges, universities, and other institutions of learning,” Bush’s statement said. “A goal of the program is to prohibit the education and training of foreign nationals who would use their training to harm the United States and its allies.”
While the specifics of Bush’s proposal did not extend beyond this statement, there has already been speculation about what these plans might entail.
“One of the implications of President Bush’s statement is that there will be increased restrictions on student visa applications,” said Joyce Randolph, executive director of Penn’s Office of International Programs.
Randolph explained that the development of an INS tracking system for foreign students is probably one of the measures Bush was referring to in his announcement this week.
This database, which has been in the making since the 1996 immigration act, comes as no surprise to the higher education and international communities. Bush’s anti-terrorism bill, passed last Friday, allocated $36 million of federal funding for this tracking system.
“Higher education institutions have been expecting the system to be put in place for a while,” Randolph said. “We’re ready for it and are ready to comply with it.”
On Capitol Hill, Senators Dianne Feinstein and Jon Kyl are drafting proposals to allow the federal government and colleges to screen applicants for student visas.
Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Kyl (R-Ariz.) are also pushing for the federal government to stop awarding student visas to the residents of seven countries that the State Department considers to be sponsors of terrorism: Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea, Sudan and Syria.
According to University of Pennsylvania Law Professor William Ewald, the security measures that the federal government are taking with student visas are important ? if they are used appropriately.
“It would seem to me that some sort of limited tracking of people in a high risk category would be necessary, but monitoring all foreign students would seem somewhat like a waste of effort,” Ewald said.
Political science Professor Rogers Smith was also quick to note that these policies must be adequately staffed and used within reason.
“If they staff immigration enforcement efforts sufficiently so that we can really identify individuals who are overstaying their visas instead of using enforcement to round up immigrants indiscriminately, then I think that it’s the right thing to do,” Smith said.
Smith explained that some of the difficulties that the INS has had in tracking students in the past have resulted from its poor administration.
“The problems of the INS have stemmed as much from not having adequate personnel to enforce the laws effectively and fairly as from invidious administration at least in recent years,” he said.
But while the anti-terrorism measures will eliminate many of these flaws in the INS infrastructure, it has, in the process, put additional stress on international students.
“Many people believe that the immigration laws and measures are necessary, but it seems to me that Bush is trying to be overly aggressive,” said Omar Al-Wir, a college junior from Jordan. “It’s quite unfortunate that the international community in America has to suffer because of a few people.”
Sahand Rahi, a college freshman from Germany, expressed frustration with the inconvenience that these heightened security measures will place on international students.
“It’s always been a hassle to apply for a visa,” he said. “Now it’s going to be even worse.”
In the end, however, it is the ambiguity of Bush’s most recent announcement that has caused the most concern.
“I’m not sure where all of that is going to lead, but we hope that reason will prevail in what ever is instituted,” Randolph said.