Immigration Laws Causing Changes, Raising Questions

Immigration Laws Causing Changes, Raising Questions

Will tighter restrictions on foreign students affect international ed?

By Sean Smith
Chronicle Editor

Boston College administrators, along with their counterparts at other American colleges and universities, are bracing for the impact of new or revised federal immigration laws that mandate closer monitoring of foreign students and scholars.

Under these provisions, most of which have been enacted during the past several months, foreign students face tighter restrictions on their length of stay in the United States and their academic status while studying at American colleges. Also, beginning today, host institutions must join a federal tracking system as a means for sharing academic and personal information on foreign visitors with the US Immigration Service.

Changes in immigration laws, including those regarding foreign students and scholars, have sparked debate nationally. Proponents say the additions and revisions - many of them spurred by security concerns in the wake of Sept. 11 - help close loopholes, clarify uncertainties and improve reporting in the immigration process.

But critics contend that the laws are too stringent and unevenly enforced, citing regulations that specifically require males from certain African, Central Asian and Middle Eastern countries to register with local immigration authorities.

BC administrators say the laws will likely mean a period of adjustment for American colleges and universities committed to overseas programs and initiatives. Although it remains to be seen how the new US immigration process will evolve, according to the administrators, there may be at least a temporary shift in international education trends.

"It's early yet, but I'm sure we here at BC, along with our colleagues at other campuses, will be looking carefully at the reactions of foreign students and faculty," said Academic Vice President and Dean of Faculties John Neuhauser. "Will the new laws have a chilling effect, such that some people will be reluctant to study in the US and might instead consider England, France or another country?

"Moreover, will some countries now implement tighter restrictions on visitors, and will this have an impact on American students and faculty wishing to go abroad?"

Assistant Dean for Student Development Adrienne Nussbaum, director of the BC Intercultural Office, says the University hosts approximately 1,000 to 1,100 foreign visitors each year. The number includes undergraduate and graduate students and faculty members from educational institutions abroad, as well as participants or instructors in special campus programs such as the University of the Middle East and the annual Gaelic Roots event.

"It's a relatively small number in regards to BC," she said, "but in terms of how offices and departments do business, the new rules are a pretty big issue."

Among other provisions, foreign students now must obtain authorization from the host institution's international student office - rather than a dean or faculty member - before dropping below full-time status. In addition, international students cannot enter the United States more than 30 days before the start date of their programs, nor stay longer than 60 days after its completion.

The centerpiece of the new immigration rules for colleges is the Student Exchange and Visitor Information System, a federal monitoring and tracking program for all international students and scholars. Beginning today, BC's Intercultural Office, along with those at all other colleges and universities, must now report biographical, academic, and immigration status information on all international students and scholars, and any dependents accompanying them, to the Immigration and Naturalization Service via SEVIS on a daily basis.

All immigration processes, such as transfers, extensions, travel, work permission and practical training, must also be done through SEVIS rather than through the host institution.

Nussbaum says the advent of SEVIS, in combination with the new or revised laws, heralds a different role for offices like hers, and the administrators who work in them.

"More than ever, it's important for us to make sure our international visitors follow the regulations, because there is almost no margin for error now: Anything they do, even unintentionally or unknowingly, which might violate their immigration status will now be reported to the Immigration and Naturalization Service, and their student status in the US will be immediately terminated."

Nussbaum says many other countries already closely monitor visiting foreign students and scholars, and some of the new or revised regulations being implemented by the US have been under discussion for some years. Whatever reservations one might have about SEVIS, she says, "it is encouraging students to pay better attention to maintaining their status in the US, which is ultimately their responsibility, because the potential for serious repercussions also is greater than in the past."

 

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