International students face new visa hurdles

A number of international students now face a new HomelandSecurity procedure when leaving the United States.

Happily for at least some PSU international students, the newprocedure is not being required at Portland International Airport.That means students flying from here to Tokyo, for example, willnot face the new procedure. It will, however, be enforced atairports in Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles, among otherdeparture points throughout the United States.

The procedure is called a biometric visa. It reduces two indexfingerprints and a photo of the student to a two-dimensionalbarcode. The barcode can then be checked against a personalinspection of the visa bearer.

“It’s all very much of Hollywood to me,” said Christina Luther,assistant director of PSU international student services. It isLuther who guides international students through the maze ofprocedures in getting in and out and moving around in thiscountry.

The biometric visa system has been in force for some time forincoming students. A pilot program to use it for exiting studentswas installed at Baltimore International Airport and Miami, Fla.,International Cruise Line Terminal. Judged a success, it wasexpanded first to Chicago’s O’Hare Airport and as of August 1applied to 11 additional airports.

As of August 1, it also became a little more difficult forinternational students to enter this country. An existingregulation had required incoming students to apply at their localU.S. consulate office and have a face-to-face interview. Untilrecently the requirement had not been enforced but now it is.

As restriction piles upon restriction, there has been aninevitable impact on the presence of international students atPortland State.

“I’m amazed at the number of students still willing to come,”Luther said. “The students have taken all this extremely well instride.”

She told of one Middle Eastern student who has been stopped andquestioned three times since the attacks of September 11, 2001. Hetends to speak of his trials with some humor, she said. Thisincluded one incident in which he was told by an overenthusiasticborder-patrol officer that he would be held for 30 days. The orderwas overruled by more experienced officers.

Some students have waited more than six months for visaapproval, Luther said. The removal of the tuition plateau also isexpected to cut down the number of international students coming toPSU because it boosts the cost of an education heresubstantially.

With the removal of the plateau, undergraduate internationalstudents will pay $351 for each credit hour over 12 and graduatestudents will pay $400 per credit hour over 12. Part of the visaapplication must show that the student has sufficient money for oneyear. The undergraduate must now show the availability of $29,000to cover tuition and living expenses for the 12 months ofstudy.

Under the Student Exchange and Visitors Information System,installed in August 2003, the university must supply detailedinformation on all international students. All these restrictionshave had a depressive effect on international student enrollment.Current figures show a total of only 1,115 international studentshere for fall term.

Luther counts only nine new graduate students and 12 newundergraduates. Her office must report whether they are here ornot.

Once here, the international student faces not only highexpenses, but limited opportunities to earn money by working. Theyare limited to 20 work hours a week and that is on campus only. Ifthey want to work off campus, they must get the approval of theU.S. Immigration Service. Its closest service center is Lincoln,Neb. Work off campus usually must be related to the student’sacademic program. To seek permission, the student must pay a $175fee through the Immigration Service.

Until recently, Luther said, approval to work off campusrequired three to four months but it is now granted in five to sixweeks. At the end of spring term, her office recommended 70students for eligibility for off-campus employment.

Approval for such off-campus employment comes with conditionsattached. The authorization can be for 12 months anywhere in theUnited States but must relate to a field of study not available inthe student’s home country. That can be in such unrelated fields asEnglish, computer science or even theater arts.

Luther’s office has had good results in getting approval forthis off-campus experience. Recently, she did have a student turneddown and that ruling is being appealed.

“I go to bat for the students as much as I’m able to,” she said.”It’s gotten a lot harder in the last years, especially sinceSeptember [11, 2001].”