International students could face stricter rules

Sheila Burt

Two new federal regulations could further restrict international students who want to study at U.S. universities, Northwestern students and officials said Thursday.

A new automated entry and exit system will take digital photographs and fingerprints of all non-immigrants, including international students, at major airports and seaports. The system, called the United States Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology, was developed by the Department of Homeland Security.

The department will implement these changes at 115 airports and 14 major seaports beginning in early 2004, according to an Oct. 28 press release.

The department also released preliminary regulations that would require international students to pay $100 for a national database that tracks international students, known as the Student Exchange and Visitor Information System.

Students risk deportation if they do not update their information with SEVIS, which was designed by the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services and is one part of stricter travelling regulations implemented since Sept. 11, 2001.

Students who already pay about $100 for a visa now also will pay the SEVIS fee each time they apply for a new visa. But students usually apply for visas once during their undergraduate careers, said Jill Drury, director of the SEVIS program for the department.

Congress always intended SEVIS to be fee-funded, Drury said, but federal funds were needed to jump start the program last year.

Part of the fee money will fund SEVIS liaison officers who will address questions universities or students have, she said.

Ravi Shankar, director of NU’s International Office, said he believes it is too early to tell how either change could affect international students. But, he said, the provisions easily could increase students’ preparation time when they plan to study in the United States.

“All of these things are another burden, another hindrance for the students,” Shankar said.

The SEVIS proposal is in a 60-day comment period so the department can receive feedback from educational institutions, including NU.

Shankar said the International Office has not reviewed the new provisions carefully but will submit their concerns before the Dec. 26 deadline.

International students must pay the $100 fee online through either a credit card payment or a U.S. check or money order drawn from a U.S. bank.

Shankar said students who do not have a credit card could be delayed waiting for a U.S. check, a concern he plans to raise when the office submits its recommendations.

“How (the fee process) is going to work is an open question,” he said, “but I can very well imagine notices being lost in the mail.”

Drury said officials at the department are looking for ways to make paying the fee easier, including allowing students to pay using the international money-wire service Western Union.

“We don’t want this to be a burden or to be considered a deterrent,” she said. “We are trying to find ways to make this easier so they can pay. We’re trying to make it as painless as possible.”

Yet students, many of whom did not even know about the SEVIS proposal, expressed concern that the new regulations could deter some students from studying in the United States and create unnecessary problems.

“For some people it might be very discouraging to think of all the processes they would have to go through in order to study at another country,” said Eriko Nakamichi, a Communication sophomore from Tokyo.

Ajeez Kamil, a McCormick junior from Malaysia, said he won’t feel the burden of the $100 because, like some international students, a third party pays his college expenses.

Kamil, who came to NU two weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks, said although the new procedures are needed to ensure safety in the United States, they could have more serious repercussions.

“You (might) feel not welcomed anymore, as if every single international student is a suspect of terrorism,” he said. “Who would like that feeling?”