May 15th, 2013 | University

International students face new visa procedure

In a direct response to the Boston Marathon bombings, the Homeland Security Department has implemented a new security procedure requiring border agents to verify the student visa of each international student entering the United States.

Previously, border agents at the airport could not access the Homeland Security Department’s Student and Exchange Visitor Information System, or SEVIS, to view visa information on international students. A student’s data would only be looked up in SEVIS if border agents noticed some indication of a national security threat and referred the student to secondary inspection. Under the new procedure, which came into effect on May 2, all border agents will have access to SEVIS.

Azamat Tazhayakov, a University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth student from Kazakhstan who has been arrested on charges of obstruction of justice for helping to dispose a backpack with fireworks linked to the Boston bombing suspects, returned to the U.S. in January with an invalid student visa, according to the Associated Press. His visa had been terminated earlier that month after he was dismissed from the school for academic reasons.

The new Homeland Security policy may cause delays in travel because international students will have to go through secondary inspection at ports of entry, said Ann Kuhlman, director of Yale’s Office of International Students and Scholars.

“The couple [of international students] I’ve heard from that have been sent to secondary inspection said it has been fairly quick,” Kuhlman said. “It all depends on what port you enter and how many others are in line. If the lines get longer, you might have to wait an hour or two and longer.”

While students might feel minor annoyance at the new system, it remains to be seen how severely travel times will be impacted, Kuhlman added. An email sent to members of the OISS community last week warned students that the policy could impact arrangements for ground transportation and connecting flights.