Government cracks down on student visas

A new crackdown on student visas won’t affect any Portland State University students, but nobody knows what problems may surface when revised regulations take hold, potentially by late summer.

Extensive changes in current Immigration and Naturalization Service rules on student visas are grinding through the bureaucratic mill. The changes are scheduled to be announced by August or early September, in time for fall term 2002.

The current anxieties about student visas erupted in July when The New York Times printed a story about immigration crackdown on existing laws. Under federal law, a foreign student must study full-time in order to be granted a visa. Up to now, the law was not strictly enforced. As a result, many Canadian and Mexican students would cross the border to study part time in American institutions. The new crackdown will end that.

The article predicted thousands of Canadian and Mexican college students will not be able to return to school in the fall. This will cost colleges and universities near the borders millions of dollars.

Dave McDonald, Oregon University System Director of Enrollment and Services said at most, 2,000 students might be affected by more rigid enforcement of the law.

According to McDonald, the majority of foreign students come to Oregon full-time.

PSU staffers emphasized the immediate crackdown will have no effect on the university.

Extended Studies is one program which attracts a number of foreign students. Judy Van Dyck, associate director for international programs said she doesn’t think PSU will be affected much and Extended Studies not at all.

“Our international students come on student visas and therefore must be enrolled full time,” she said.

Christina Luther, international student adviser in the International Educational Services office, predicted a zero effect on PSU.

“It’s not going to affect us,” she said. “We’re too far from the border.”

At the same time, Luther frowned on the INS crackdown.

“I don’t think it’s appropriate that students are prevented from picking up a credit or two or finishing up a program,” she said.

At present, Luther said the international student population stands at approximately 1,270 and all have full-time admitted status.

PSU currently has 14 Canadian students and six from Mexico.

The Middle East student population took an initial decline after the Sept. 11 terrorist attack, according to Luther, but it was not due to INS interference. The fear of public backlash motivated some Middle East students to go home and some who had gone home for summer break decided not to come back immediately.

“The Middle Eastern students who stayed felt very safe and supported by the university and the Portland community,” Luther said. “There were no acts of aggression reported.”

A total of 89 countries are represented in the current PSU student population. Japan has the most with 300, India has 122, South Korea has 114 and China has 101.

Despite the current calm, new regulations proposed by the government may elevate tensions. In May the INS proposed numerous changes to the F-1 category, which covers the primary category of visitors. Both students and dependents would be affected.

Luther knows that one change is already required. By January 30, 2003, the university is required to report all international students. The reporting is to be done over SEVIS, the government’s Student and Exchange Visitor Information System. PSU always has fully tracked all its foreign students, but this reporting obligation mandates the new procedure for all schools.

When the INS proposed its sweeping rule changes, it offered universities a 30-day comment period, to be followed by final regulations.

“We are waiting with bated breath,” Luther said. “We hope they will publish the new rules in August or early September.”

Under old rules, a student who becomes ill and has to interrupt education would remain in status and allowed to resume education after recovery. INS proposes to eliminate that provision.

A new regulation proposes that the spouse of an F-1 student may not engage in full time study and a child may only study in K through 12. They may, however, engage in study that is avocational or recreational.

Another new rule forbids foreign students to attend home school, public elementary school or any publicly funded adult education program.

Luther was not surprised the INS is revising its rules. She believes both Congress and the President have pressured the INS to tighten up on student security. The new regulations are just one result.