With recent international affairs and the restructuring of the Immigration and Naturalization Service into the Department of Homeland Security, new measures have been taken that affect international students at UR.
“They’re generally tightening down on everything,” Director of International Relations Cary Jensen said.
Beginning as far back as the 1993 Trade Center bombing, new procedures were brought up to keep tighter restrictions on international students in terms of visas and immigration regulations. With the events of September 11 and increased tensions from the situation in Iraq, the measures have been accelerated and are presently going into effect.
These new measures include requiring international students to have their information put into a nationwide Internet database called SEVIS – Student and Exchange Visitor Information System – which will allow schools to “exchange data” with the newly formed Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services under the Department of Homeland Security.
“It is a comprehensive new web-based database,” Jensen said. “It will provide [BCIS] with information now when students first arrive to confirm that they actually showed up and are in school, as well as keeping track of students being enrolled in the educational programs they are supposed to be in.”
Additional staff has been hired by the International Services Office to cope with increased activity due to the SEVIS requirements.”We’re trying to help the students out. There are rules that [the students] have to know, but as long as they know them, they’ll be fine,” International Student Advisor Sylvia Kless said.
Requirements of the form include personal background information, academic program details and financial information.In addition, all international students will have to use newly issued I-20 cards when entering the U.S., as non-SEVIS cards will not be valid after August 1. The university is recommending international students carry identification for being in the U.S. at all times as well.
The increased tensions abroad have also affected the numbers of international students attending academic institutions across the country, including Middle Eastern students. UR has not felt these effects as of yet, with approximately 2,000 international students at UR – large portion of whom are graduate students.
“Nationwide the numbers have dropped, at least from [the Middle Eastern] region,” Jensen said. “Our numbers are actually up slightly. The university has a strong enough reputation. I don’t see it as impacting us in the short term.”
Increased security has also affected international students and their ability to re-enter the country after going home on break. Further, many students have had difficulties obtaining visas, as numerous countries are greatly reducing the amount of visas issued and delaying their distribution.
“With the new measures for anti-terrorism from Homeland Security, there are delays and complications in students getting their visas in their home countries,” Jensen said.
For students needing to register for ‘Special Registration’, students must report to the former INS office in Buffalo, NY to be fingerprinted and photographed for bureau records.
A dozen or more students were stranded in China over winter break, and three graduate students remain there still, unable to obtain visas. However, not all of those subject to the new restrictions and security measures see it as a negative.
“At first I was kind of annoyed about [the new security], but I think they have to be cautious now. In the long run I think it will benefit the people,” senior Pinar Ulug, a student from Cyprus and the International Ambassador for ISO said.
She felt the new visas will also benefit international students traveling. “I actually think the new visa will make it much easier. They’ll have a list of people and they will just check you off the list.”
Ulug conceded, though, that the airport security resulting from the new measures can be irritating.
“It’s frustrating at the airports – if you have a foreign passport, they pull you aside and search all your belongings.”
Students overseas are also affected by new security measures, and are being encouraged to maintain a low profile, but have faced no difficulties thus far. “We’re quite surprised – we haven’t heard from students overseas,” Assistant Dean and Director of the Center for Study Abroad and Interdepartmental Programs Jacqueline Levine said.
In terms of the new security measures in traveling, Levine feels they are necessary and must be regarded as such. “The [safety measures] have been put in place for [the students’] own safety,” she said. “I am thrilled with the new regulations.”
“Our goal is for students to have a terrific international educational experience,” she said. “Programs are going, people are going about their business.”
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