If California Sen. Dianne Feinstein had her way, Taimur Hassan’s ’04 brother would have to wait until April to apply for his student visa even if an American college accepted him early.
Less than three weeks after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Feinstein called on Congress to support a six month moratorium on issuing student visas. Under Feinstein’s plan, all foreign students who apply for new visas to study in the United States in the next six months would have been rejected.
Feinstein retracted her proposal Friday after representatives from American Council of Education President David Ward submitted a letter that protested the burden such a moratorium would place on academic life and research programs across the country.
“The loss to the United States in terms of intellectual accomplishment, goodwill and lost economic activity will be enormous,” he wrote in the letter, which bore the endorsement of 29 pan-collegiate associations. “It will take decades to undo the damage that even a ‘temporary’ ban will create.”
In the letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee, the signatory organizations offered to report to the Immigration and Naturalization Service any names of foreign students who have not reported to any classes within the first 30 days of a semester.
Although Feinstein no longer supports a moratorium on visas, she still supports devoting $32.2 million to developing a database that the INS would use to keep track of all foreign students in the United States, Feinstein’s press secretary Scott Gerber said.
“This is one concrete area where there are loopholes, and she believes we need this program to close the loopholes,” Gerber said.
Feinstein initially set the moratorium length at six months because she felt the INS needed six months to set up its database, Gerber said.
Even without the moratorium, Zhou Xizhou ’05 worries Yale’s academic environment would be tainted.
“I’m worried if we will still be as free as we are now,” Zhou said. “If it makes us feel different, I wouldn’t like that. We need to be comfortable.”
Irrespective of the moratorium, Congress is considering expanding the INS budget, a move that, in addition to the war in Afghanistan, has some international students looking beyond the United States for higher learning.
But even before Sept. 11, getting a student visa often proved difficult for international students. This summer, over 14 students from China had their visa requests rejected at least once before they could come to Yale to study this year.
Xizhou was one of those students and was only able to arrive in the United States on Sept. 7, two weeks after many of his classmate had already begun their Yale experience with orientation programs.
While Xizhou managed to get to the United States, his classmate Jing-Jing He wasn’t as lucky. The American Consulate in China rejected her visa once, and Jing-Jing then reapplied in August. She did not hear back from the American Consulate until after the terrorist attacks. Again, her request for a visa was denied.
With more control over international students’ whereabouts, Zhou believes the American Consulate in China will continue to deny visas for the same reasons.
Zhou believes the visa problem lies more in the American officials who review visas than in those who receive visas.
“There are thousands of students in Beijing and Shanghai who want to come [to the United States] for an academic process,” Zhou said. “In China, visas are not a legal process. One person decides everything.”
The United States is not the only place where international students face visa limitations.
In Canada, students from countries on the “terrorism watch list,” such as Iran, Iraq and Libya, will not be able to take courses in biology and chemistry, said Jenn Anthony, national deputy chairman of the Canadian Federation of Students, in an Oct. 2 Toronto Sun article.
Danielle Sarazin, a spokesman of the Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration, confirmed the restrictions on international students, the Sun reports.
But visas are not the only problem that has arisen for international students in the wake of the attacks.
Back in Lahore, Pakistan, seniors at Aitchison High School will not be able to retake the SATs this fall because the American Consulate officials who administer the exam had to leave Pakistan, Assad Ahmad ’04 said. Ahmad graduated from Aitchison before coming to Yale.
“[Heightened visa security] is disturbing,” Assad said. “A lot of kids from my school want to come here. This is against the spirit of America.”
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