College officials who work with foreign students expressed broad support Monday for proposed legislation that would significantly tighten restrictions on some student visas but still allow flexibility in individual cases.
The comprehensive visa reform bill, the result of weeks of negotiations between key senators and education groups after the September terrorist attacks, also would require colleges and federal authorities to monitor foreign students more closely once they arrive in the United States
Campus officials and education groups involved with the issue said the wide-ranging bill, introduced last week by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and three Senate colleagues, would help tighten the nation's porous visa system and improve security. And it would do so in ways that are largely workable for colleges and universities, educators said.
"We're very happy with the bill," said David Ward, president of the American Council on Education, the nation's leading organization of colleges and universities. "It's a good compromise."
That view was echoed Monday by representatives of California colleges, which lead the nation in educating foreign students. More than 74,000 international students were enrolled at California colleges last year, according to a recent survey by the Institute of International Education.
This bill would close loopholes for student and other temporary visas that became evident after the terrorist attacks. Feinstein and other legislators were focused in particular on the nation's half-million foreign students. Immigration officials have said at least one of the 19 men involved in the attacks entered the country on a student visa but never showed up for classes.
Since the attacks, immigration officials told Congress that gaps in the system prevent them from being able to tell how many foreigners who entered the country with student visas stayed on illegally, or even whether a particular foreign student registered at the school that sponsored him.
The various security gaps all "point to the dramatic need for change," Feinstein said in introducing the legislation.
If enacted, the bill would prohibit the government from issuing visas to students from countries the U.S. State Department considers state sponsors of terrorism--Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea, Sudan and Syria.
Ward and other higher education officials said they were pleased the plan would allow an exemption for individual applicants determined not to be a threat to the United States.
Ward said earlier versions of the proposal imposed a blanket prohibition, even on refugees from the targeted countries or students who actively opposed their nation's policies.
"It seems very reasonable to us to have such a policy in place but also to make exceptions," Ward said.
Under another key provision, the Justice Department would be required to notify college officials when a student who is expected to enroll at their institution enters the country. Colleges also would have to notify immigration authorities if the student does not show up for class within 30 days of the beginning of an academic term.
Colleges also would be required to collect and report more information to immigration authorities than is now required. The new requirements would include a student's date of entry into the country, date of enrollment and the degree program or field of study.
The bill also would require the Immigration and Naturalization Service to conduct periodic reviews of colleges to monitor compliance with the new reporting requirements.