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Tuesday, July 05, 2022
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Visa Restrictions Hamper UB Recruitment

In a presentation to the Faculty Senate Executive Committee on Wednesday titled "Tracking foreign students and impact of 9/11," Stephen Dunnett, vice provost for international education, outlined hurdles UB's foreign students would have to overcome to enter the United States and a new international student-tracking database being created at UB in complacence with federal law.

Since Sept. 11, Immigration and Naturalization Services and the State Department have restricted the issue of F- and J-class visas given to foreign students attending U.S. colleges or universities, in the interest of national security.

Dunnett said it was "very unkind" of the INS to "give the public this impression that institutions of higher learning are somehow culpably involved in bringing questionable people into the country."

"Not one of the highjackers who committed those horrible acts was on a bonafide student visa, although the INS, and to a lesser degree the State Department, have pointed indirectly at us," Dunnett said. "Not one of (the highjackers) had an F- or J-class visa issued by a U.S. institution of higher learning."

Dunnett noted that the Sept. 11 highjackers entered the United States on M-class visas, which are issued by "proprietary schools such as flight schools, beauty parlors (and) sushi-making institutes."

"If you were a terrorist, the last visa you would ever apply for would be an F or J visa, " said Dunnett, explaining that in order to be granted a F or J visa, one must apply to an accredited college or university, submit financial records and grade-school transcripts, take three different standardized tests and pay the first semester's tuition before arrival.

"Why would you go through all that trouble when you can get an M visa from a tourist agency, not even go for an interview, or a V visa tourist visa again from a travel agency or overstressed consulate official from the U.S. consulate or embassy?" he said.

F- and J-class visas constitute two percent of the total visas issued annually, while the remaining 98 percent are M- and V-class visas. Dunnett said the government is singling out higher education because tourism lobbyists have a lot of power and would object to restrictions.

"Disneyland would scream, airlines would complain they already have problems, hotels would complain, so we do not regulate tourist visas or propriety visas," Dunnett said. "Where do we go? Let's go get those F-1 students because we know where they live, they're all here at UB and about 25 other institutions in the country."

According to total fall enrollment statistics from September of 1996 to September 2002, total international enrollment for undergraduates increased from 848 in 2001 to 883 in 2002. However, that is only a 4.13 percent increase, while the increase in foreign undergraduates between 2000 and 2001 was 17.13 percent.

"Our problem could be that we are going to have very bad enrollment next fall unless these problems clear," said Dunnett.

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Colleges used to be responsible for doing background checks on foreign applicants and issuing authorization documents to U.S. embassies and consulates abroad so students could obtain an F- or J-class visa. Once students entered the country, colleges were expected to track them.

According to Dunnett, "Sept. 11 changed everything."

By mandate of the Homeland Security Act and the Patriot Act, colleges are expected to create a database and tracking system for foreign students. The new system, which must be put in place by Jan 1., will cost UB $100,000 for computers and $40,000 for software, plus staff salaries.

The government will not subsidize any of these requirements.

"(UB's system will) probably blow every other computer in the INS because they're not as sophisticated as we are in this area," said Dunnett.

Once UB obtains a student's information, the information is sent to officials in Washington, who perform a background check on the student and put his or her name on a list at the student's local U.S. embassy or consulate, said Dunnett.

By mandate of Attorney General John Ashcroft, all males between the ages of 18 and 40 from "Islamic countries" applying to schools must undergo an extensive background check before earning a visa, but the government currently has no staff to undertake these checks and thus, many admitted students are unable to come to UB, said Dunnett.

Out of UB's 3,272 international students, 372 come from Islamic countries. The top three countries are Malaysia, with 163 students; Indonesia, with 47 students; and Pakistan, with 36 students, according to Fall 2002 UB Student Enrollment-Islamic Countries statistics.

"Of course (UB is) lobbying the State Department and other branches of the U.S. government, and it's been an issue overseas," Dunnett said. "There have been demonstrations in front of U.S. embassies, but I don't think it will make a big difference."

Some students were denied visas because the departments to which they applied were labeled as "sensitive fields" by the U.S. government, said Dunnett. These "sensitive fields" are areas the government fears students will learn skills, such as building a nuclear weapon or developing anthrax, and bring the information to their home country for the purposes of attacking the United States.

Last year, several students admitted to UB from China were denied visas because they were applying to sensitive fields. Dunnett wrote to the consulate and was able to get some of its student rejections reversed.

One of these students, he said, was an aerospace engineering major that the consulate believed would be learning how to fly planes.

According to Dunnett, the sensitive fields policy is impossible to enforce because nothing can stop students from changing majors once they are enrolled in the university.

Once the tracking system is set up and fully operational, it could take the accepted international student at least three months to obtain a visa. In order to combat delays, the vice provost urged UB departments to get an early start on international student admissions by getting students from abroad accepted as soon as possible.

"(UB has) already been approved by the INS and (they) told us that we are not a 'problem institution' and they're not worried about us," Dunnett said.



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