While the US continues to extol the benefits of multiculturalism and diversity, and is, in fact, successfully pushing study abroad for its own students (up 4.4 per cent in 2001/02, to a total of 160,920 students), it is also enforcing all kinds of security measures that, as a result, make travel to the United States more difficult, especially for nationals of certain countries.
Many graduate programs have been adversely affected as a result of delays and denials pertaining to visas. Countries such as Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Great Britain are competing more fiercely and successfully than ever before for foreign students in the hopes of supplanting the United States from its position as the preferred destination for international students. A few years ago, for example, British Prime Minister Tony Blair started an $8 million effort to attract additional international students to British universities.
Washington now reviews the visa applications of all Arab and Muslim men, as well as the applications of anyone visiting the US for the purpose of scientific inquiry. The National Science Board, a federal advisory body established by the US Congress, announced last November that the number of successful visa applications by foreign scientists had dropped by 55 per cent in 2001/02, raising fears that the US, which had been heavily dependent on foreign-born scientists and engineers in the 90s, will face a shortage of talent in the global market.
The International Herald Tribune quoted Diana Natalicio, president of the University of Texas at El Paso and vice chairwoman of the Science Board, as saying that the United States is not educating enough of its own students in those areas to satisfy the technology-hungry marketplace. This remark was held up by the testimony of Dr John Abner, vice president for Research and Public Service, in his Capitol Hill hearing testimony on Oct. 23, 2003, before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, when he testified that one third of all PhDs in science and engineering and two fifths of those in computer science and engineering are awarded to foreign-born students. Two-thirds of foreign students who receive PhDs in the United States in science and engineering remain in the country to work and two-fifths of the faculty in engineering departments across the country are foreign born.
Foreign students and their dependants contributed more than $12.85 billion to the US economy during the 02/03 academic year, according to a conservative estimate by the Association of International Educators. More than 70 per cent of undergraduate foreign students pay full tuition, providing important revenue for many public universities in the US.
In addition to such factors as economic decline in many countries, safety concerns and an increase in competition for foreign students from other host countries, the decreased rate of enrolment is generally attributed to visa restrictions and the implementation of SEVIS, the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System. SEVIS is a US government computerized process, mandated by the US Congress in 1996 after it was found that one of the convicted bombers in the 1993 attack on the World Trade Centre had a student visa. Additional rules were put into place as a result of the USA Patriot Act of 2001 and the Enhanced Border Security Act of 2002.
The system is run by the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement and collects and manages data about foreign students and exchange visitors during their stay in the US in order to facilitate the analysis of national security risks. The SEVIS database includes students' biographical data, addresses, fields of study, as well as the duration dates for the programs of study. All SEVIS authorized schools (about 6,000 institutions) in the US are required to follow specified reporting and data-updating procedures. A Department of Defense Appropriation Bill in 2002 allocated $36,800,000 in funding for the creation and development of SEVIS.
Because this vast database must be coordinated with US Ports of Entry and the Department of Homeland Security, and because the information must also be transmitted to the US Department of State consular offices around the world, difficulties arising from technical glitches, faulty information, data access and overzealous enforcement have caused students to fail to obtain visas in a timely fashion and have interfered with their enrolling in the programs to which they have been accepted. Once in the country, students are subject to arrest if they violate regulations.
Many such alleged violations turn out to be technical or mistaken, yet agents are encouraged to make arrests for public-relations purposes, as noted by Coleen Rowley, a whistle-blower at the Federal Bureau of Investigation. On Dec. 27, 2003, the Associated Press ran a story on Abdelqader Abu-Snaineh, a 21-year-old Jordanian student studying computer science at La Roche College in Pittsburgh, who was led in handcuffs from the campus for failing to register under the National Security Entry Exit Registration (NSEER) regulations and was faced with deporting hearings. Abu-Snaineh had reportedly consulted with the appropriate university office regarding his infraction, but such offices are no longer effective in helping students with visa-related problems.
NSEER is another legislative policy that affects international students studying in the United States. This is an entry-exit registration process requiring temporary foreign visitors from selected countries entering the US to register with immigration authorities. Authorities also track changes in addresses, schools and employment for aliens subject to this system. Jordanians are among visitors so targeted, as are nationals form Afghanistan, Algeria, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Egypt, Eritrea, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Libya, Lebanon, Morocco, North Korea, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar, Somalia, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates and Yemen. Most of the foreign visitors registered in this system are students, people in the US on extended business travel or people visiting family members for lengthy periods.
Additionally, an automated entry/exit program that uses fingerprints and photographs to verify the identity of all visa holders (non-immigrants), and that is said to inconvenience visitors for only a few minutes each, will be in effect at all ports of entry by December 2005. This system is called the US VISIT: US Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology.
The United States State Department and the Department of Homeland Security have provided information on student visas and regulations on the following websites:
Source: Excerpted from "Impact of US security measures on foreign students" Jordan Times
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