As new announcements are made about restrictions on student visas, the complaints — in the name of civil liberties and international education — intensify. I encourage the nay-sayers who stand adamantly opposed to the United States’ adjusting its visa policies to think again and exhort them to consider the following.
First, under current rules, a U.S. student visa requires too little effort to obtain and carries too few binding restrictions once acquired. It provides much more than the mere ability to lock oneself in the ivory tower. Consider the fact that with U.S. vocational visas, the skillful, not the scholarly, can apply to study “engineering” or “pharmaceuticals” — read: bomb-making and chemical/biological weaponry.
Certainly most student visas are not sought with this intent, but surely some end up this way, such as flight training in Florida. Also, even if a student’s visa expires, he is allowed to remain in the United States without penalty. There is no “recall” on a student visa; the expired visa only becomes a problem when the holder leaves the country and then tries to return.
In short, it is far too easy for those with sinister intentions to masquerade as students genuinely interested in pursuing an American education — and it is far too easy for them to slip between the cracks after their arrival here.
Secondly, just what’s so bad about limiting student visas, or at the very least, keeping stricter tabs on visa holders once they are in the United States? As long as foreign students are actually here to study, and adhere to the rules and regulations of their visas, it is doubtful that they will run into trouble — problems arise only if they really have something to hide.
If students are here legitimately, are pursuing the course of studies for which the U.S. government has admitted them, and are comporting themselves decorously and according to U.S. laws and restrictions, they should have a clean conscience if and when their records are examined.
Third, a failure to restrict student visas may actually deter foreign students from coming to the United States more than the restrictions themselves. It requires only common sense to know that if one is concerned for one’s safety, one does not seek out dangerous situations. If the United States gains a reputation for opening itself to terrorist acts by failing to adequately prevent terrorists from entering the country, it will make other international visitors think twice before coming here — as they should.
We run the risk of turning away the very foreign students we seek to welcome, simply because we refuse to put measures in place that would keep malicious and unwanted ones out.
Fourth, international education is a privilege, not a right — otherwise, one would not have to apply for a visa in the first place. If the United States does end up restricting the number of student visas it issues each year, perhaps foreign students might better appreciate the ability to study in the United States as a remarkable and unique opportunity. It might also make American students more conscious and appreciative of the presence of their international colleagues.
Fifth, whatever one’s feelings about civil liberties, no one can deny that laxity about student visas was one of the key factors leading to the Sept. 11 attacks. The very presence of the terrorists in the United States was made possible by the lack of restrictions on student visas — just as their ability to bring weapons on board the four flights was made possible by a lack of restrictions on carry-on items.
Since Sept. 11, we have increased our airport security in an attempt to amend the mistakes that allowed the hijackings. Why would we not take the same approach to student visas? We have recognized that our airport policies were grossly insufficient, and so we fixed them. The same needs to be done with student visa restrictions; otherwise we run the risk of not learning from a very tragic mistake.
Despite what some might contend, an argument to restrict student visas is not tantamount to xenophobia or bigotry. Nor does it demonstrate a lack of appreciation for international education. I fully understand and value the enormous benefits study abroad can bring — I spent two years in middle and high school living as an expatriate in Tokyo, and next term, I will be studying abroad again.
I recognize that foreign students are a very important part of the University and should be welcomed once here. But it is as much for their safety — remember, the Sept. 11 attacks killed citizens of nearly 40 countries besides the United States — as for that of American students that we need to keep a closer watch on visas.
Prudence, evidence, common sense and the security of all students — foreign and American — demand it.
Meghan Clyne is a junior in Branford College.