International student visas

Jun-Sik Kim

The Washington Post’s Oct. 5 issue reported that several of the 19 suspected hijackers in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks did not enter the United States on student visas as was originally reported.

A new anti-terrorism bill that urges a reform of the nation’s student visa program is now working its way through Congress.

In relation to this, Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif) has suggested a six-month moratorium on the issuing visas to international students.

Feinstein called it off, however, in response to promises from higher education institutions to support all efforts to prevent potential acts of terrorism.

“The proposed moratorium was a knee-jerk reaction. There are over a million international students all over the U.S. They’re here to study, not to be a terrorist,” says Danita Kurtz, program coordinator of the International Student Center at Cerritos College.

“Even if people get a visa, come here, drop out and are never seen again, they’re not trying to plot against the U.S., They’re probably serving dinner at a local restaurant,” said Kurtz.

According to the recent data from the Immigration and Natural-ization Services (INS), only 599 of the listed 1.67 million “deportable aliens” were associated with student visas.

There are 353 international students that study at Cerritos College. They’re mainly from Asian countries; some from Europe and Africa, and about 10 from Middle Eastern countries – countries which are now on a watch list.

International students are required to take a minimum of 12 units and pay $157 per unit. They also spend money on meals, cars, and the like. Nationally, foreign students are a $12 billion annual industry.

“They’re providing not only money, but their presence on campus is very important toward having a diverse student population,” said Kurtz, noting the importance of international students at school and in the community.

Although the INS has been developing a system to track foreign students since 1996, “implementation of the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS), also known as CIPRIS, has been hampered by controversy over the administration of the system’s financing,” said David Ward, president of the American Council of Education (ACE) in a letter to Feinstein.

The ACE, and the higher education associates, also wrote a letter to President George W. Bush demanding to designate $36.8 million of the Emergency Supplemental appropriations package to the INS.

“As a real time electronic tracking system, SEVIS will enable colleges to notify the INS whenever there is a change of status that may affect a student’s visa,” said Ward in the letter.

There has been no reported problem at Cerritos, and not one international student has left the campus.

“We saw a drop in inquiries, but they’re starting to pick up again,” said Kurtz. “I want them to know they’re very well supported on campus. If they need anything or they want to contact their family, they’re very welcome to come here and we’ll help them do that.”

A conference on the nation’s visa program will be held in two weeks and the I.S.C. is planning to have a seminar.

For more information visit the International Student Center next to the Administration building.