Proposed legislation may suspend issuing of new student visas

Rebecca Cooper

After the Sept. 11 attacks, international students who want to study in the United States may have difficulty entering the country through the U.S. student visa program.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., proposed legislation last week that may alter or even suspend the U.S. student visa program.

According to her Web site,, Feinstein believes the Immigration and Naturalization Service should place a six-month moratorium on the issuance of new student visas to allow the INS time to make necessary changes to the program.

She also proposed comprehensive background checks on all foreign students, $32.3 million to start an electronic foreign student tracking system and new requirements for schools to submit names of students who violated the terms of the visas. The violations include not enrolling in school, dropping out of school or committing a deportable offense.

“If she follows through with the proposed legislation, I think it will be very harmful to Iowa State, as well as colleges and universities throughout the country,” said Dennis Peterson, director of ISU International Education Services. “There’s no question the immigration services need to make changes, but prohibiting people from coming in the first place is not the way to go.”

According to Feinstein’s Web site, reforms are necessary, because a number of suspected hijackers in the Sept. 11 attacks were in the country on student visas. The suspects were enrolled in U.S. schools, according to the Web site, but they never attended.

Tim Lin, junior in mathematics from Taiwan, said he disagrees with Feinstein’s logic.

“She is basically saying that every international student is a threat to the country, because some people stayed when they weren’t supposed to,” Lin said. “You can compare it to people with driver’s licenses. When one person drives under the influence, are we going to stop issuing drivers licenses? I don’t think it’s the fair thing to do.”

He said he hopes it won’t interfere with his planned trip home over winter break.

“How would you like to go back [home] to visit your family and being hassled upon returning to Ames?” he said. “That’s no different than me going back to Taiwan and being hassled at customs when re-entering the U.S.”

A visa, which is a permit to apply to enter the United States, is normally obtained at an American consulate outside the United States, according to the Bureau of Consular Affairs Web site,

There are two categories for student visas – academic students and vocational students. The students must apply to an INS-approved school and fill out the proper forms for the INS and the school.

A spouse and unmarried, minor children also may be classified for a nonimmigrant visa to accompany or follow the student. Sixty days after a person is no longer a full-time student, they must leave the country with their family or apply for an extension.

Other visas include employment, immigrant and visitor visas.

“It’s a lot easier to get a tourist visa, and there are a lot more of them than student visas,” Peterson said. “Her solution is not one that will provide for the changes that need to be made to the process all the way around.”