Bill Aims To Tighten Student Visa Controls
The bill would prevent the government from issuing visas to students from countries considered sponsors of terrorism–Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea, Sudan and Syria–unless the applicants are deemed to not “pose a threat to the safety or national security of the United States.”
“Our action must strike a careful balance between protecting civil liberties and providing the means for law enforcement to identify, apprehend and detain potential terrorists,” Kennedy said in a speech before the Senate last week.
According to the bill, Justice Department officials would be obligated to inform universities when a student expecting to enroll in their program entered the country. Colleges would, in turn, have to notify authorities if students do not show up for classes within thirty days of the start of an academic term.
Harvard receives numerous applications from students based in countries that support terrorism, according to the admissions office.
“It will not affect our admissions decisions,” said Marlyn McGrath-Lewis ’70-’73, director of admissions for the College. “We do not check with the government before admitting students.”
The regulations relating to foreign students have been the subject of legislative scrutiny after immigration officials discovered that one of the 19 men involved in the attacks on Sept. 11 was in the United States on a student visa, but never showed up for class.
In the past 10years, 16,000 students from terrorist supporting states have entered the United States.
“The foreign student visa system is one of the most under-regulated systems we have today,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), while introducing the legislation.
“We’ve seen bribes, bureaucracy, and other problems with this system that leave it wide open to abuse by terrorists and other criminals,” she said.
The legislation requires the development of an electronic database, by Oct. 26, 2003, which will provide immediate access to information in databases of law enforcement and intelligence community agencies that is relevant to determine whether to issue a visa or determine the deportability of an alien.
The bill will also provide $150 million to the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) and Customs Bureau to improve technology, while increasing the number of INS inspectors, investigators and Border Patrol agents.
“[The aim] is to provide public security while not imposing unnecessary restrictions... and maintaining the level of flexibility that academic institutions need to have,” said Kevin Casey, senior director of federal and state relations at Harvard.
The currently proposed bill, a combination of opposing versions of legislation, is the culmination of lengthy negotiations between senators and education groups.
University administration has worked closely with Kennedy’s Office on preparing previous drafts of the bill.
“We’ve seen a lot of improvement, but this is a volatile climate. We’ll have to watch how the draft evolves,” Casey said.