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
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
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.