A bill floating in the U.S. Senate could stigmatize international students as dangerous and decrease their enrollment in college, educators are cautioning.
The Enhanced Border Security and Visa Entry Reform Act of 2001 is a legislative response to Sept. 11, said Kirk Robey, director of the Center for International Programs. It is an unnecessary response, though, to the fact that one of the Sept. 11 terrorists entered the country on a student visa, Robey said.
"The people involved in international education on a personal basis know foreign students aren't terrorists and aren't more likely to be a terrorist than anyone else," Robey said. "This is an emotional reaction to a very difficult situation."
The bill requires universities to give more information to the Immigration and Naturalization Service concerning a student's background, status and location. This information will be processed through a Web-based system to be shared among all law enforcement agencies.
The act also increases fees for visa applications, which will be machine-readable and tamper-resistant. Also, visas would not be issued to students from countries designated as sponsors of terrorism until students are determined to be a non-threat by the Secretary of State.
Educators fear the terrorist attacks and the bill could make it more difficult for students to attain visas that are already difficult to acquire.
According to Chingiz Sharshekeev, a political science graduate student from Kyrgyzstan, acquiring a visa was a lengthy process that included providing the government with information about schooling, tuition, and housing.
As of Wednesday, Ball State University had one confirmed student still waiting on a visa to enter the country. According to Robey, there may also be students waiting on visas who have not contacted the university about any problems.
If the bill becomes law, Robey worries increased visa fees and skeptical treatment of Middle Eastern students might harm the flow of international students.
"The flow of students is pretty important for a lot of reasons," Robey said. "It's important culturally. It's important to the education of American students, and financially it's important because they bring in a lot of tuition dollars."
Robey said international students help give American students a broader world view, an idea echoed by the National Association of Foreign Student Advisers on its Web site, www.nafsa.org.
Robey said he questions if there is enough government manpower and funding to handle the massive amounts of personal information that would be generated.
The bill, however, could have been worse, Robey said. The original draft proposed in September, he said, was much more severe. Robey also said he believes the bill might see more moderation as it passes through the Senate.
Some immigration reform groups, including the Federation for American Immigration Reform, support the bill in its current form.
"The Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) applauded the House vote passing legislation to tighten border controls in an effort to secure our nation against terrorists," the group wrote on its Web site, www.fairus.org.