November 8, 2002

Student Visa Draft Heads to Assembly S.A.Students to be Debated:

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Yesterday afternoon, two representatives to the Student Assembly introduced a resolution to affirm the S.A.’s solidarity with international students who have encountered obstacles in applying for visas to study in the country. The resolution affirms both “the right of these students to attend Cornell University [and] to pursue their studies free of harassment or discrimination,” and S.A.’s “solidarity with all international students who have been inconvenienced by the tightened security measures currently in place.”

Lisa Van Eyndhoven ’04, S.A. international liaison and Stuti Mandala ’04, S.A. representative for the College of Arts and an international student submitted the proposal.

Larger Problems

Across the University, concern about the United States’ policy on student visas has been growing.

“The debate won’t be brought up until our next meeting in three weeks,” Van Eyndhoven said.

The resolution noted that the number of denials of visa applications this year, between twenty and thirty, marks “a significant deviation from the norm of one or two students being denied visas in prior years.”

This resolution was submitted in primarily in response to the situation of eleven graduate students, most of who are from China and were denied visas this year; ten freshman undergraduates from Malaysia whose visas have been delayed due to security checks; and one student from Saudi Arabia who has been unable to return to campus since June of last year, as well as a handful of other international students.

“We support reasonable security measures,” said Brendan O’Brien, director of the international students and scholars office, in an interview. “But for innocent students, whose lives are disrupted, these policies have had adverse effects.”

O’Brien went on to point out that there has not been a change of policy so much as a more stringent enforcement of existing rules. The action of performing these checks is time consuming and magnifying the problem for students.

“This causes long delays at both the American Consulate in various nations and at the INS,” he said.

Some international students have noted that the it has become more difficult to get student visas in their native countries.

“The percentage of visas grated [in India] has gone down,” said Avishek Hazrachoudhury ’05, a native of India. He did note that his family had not personally had trouble getting visas granted. “My brother applied for one this year, and he got it.”

O’Brien attempted to give some insight into the growing dilemma.

“I think that there’s no doubt that [the policies have] a greater effect on the Middle East and Muslim countries,” he said.

The implementation of the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) program — an Internet-based system that will provide educational institutions, exchange programs and the government with an automated means of exchanging information about foreign students — is scheduled to begin January 30, 2003.

“I think all in all, only good can come out of SEVIS. Although it is expensive, it doesn’t harm anyone or infringe on anybody’s rights. It can only help,” Van Eyndhoven said.

On the national level, Cornell is working through organizations such as the Association of International Educators and the Association of American Universities to encourage a solution that promotes a more efficient system. On the individual level, the University is offering assistance to any students who are adversely effected by these policies.

The United States has been applying a much more stringent visa policy since Sept. 11, 2001. One hijacker, Hani Hasan Hanjour, entered the United States with a student visa to study the English language at the ESL Language Centers in Oakland, California. Several other hijackers, such as Mohammed Atta received student visas for flight school. Hanjour and Atta both had their visas expire prior to the attack.

One critic of student visas is Harvard University’s Prof. George J. Borjas, public policy, who claimed in “An Evaluation of the Foreign Student Program,” a report he wrote for the Center for Immigration Studies that “the remarkably powerful combination of INS ineptitude and the higher-education sector’s greed perverted what should have seemed to be a sensible and noble program into an economically dubious proposition and national security fiasco.”

O’Brien disagreed.

“I don’t think that calling higher-education greedy is fair,” he said. “Universities have realized that international students contribute a lot to their communities in many ways.”

Archived article by David Hillis