Foreigners studying in US face stricter visa checks

Updated: 2013-05-23 11:09

By Hu Haidan in New York (China Daily)

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A key group of US senators last week voted to amend an immigration bill to tighten security around student visas in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings.

The Senate Judiciary Committee on May 14 approved an amendment by New York Democrat Charles Schumer that would give State Department overseers of US student and exchange-visitor visas access to records and databases maintained by other federal agencies.

The committee also passed an amendment by Sen Charles Grassley, an Iowa Republican, that would require real-time transmission of data from the Department of Homeland Security's Student and Exchange Visitor Information System, or SEVIS.

Earlier this month, the DHS instructed federal Customs and Border Protection agents to begin verifying visas held by international students re-entering the United States. The procedure is the US government's first security change directly tied to the deadly bombings on April 15.

David Murphy, a senior Customs and Border Protection official, circulated a memo dated May 2 ordering border agents to verify that every international student who arrives in the US has a valid student visa.

Previously, a border agent could verify an international student's visa through SEVIS only if the student was referred to a second agent for additional questioning or inspection.

The order comes in response to an incident involving Azamat Tazhayakov, a student from Kazakhstan who is accused of hiding evidence on behalf of one of the two brothers suspected in the Boston bombings.

Liang Cai, a master's student in business at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said international students at MIT received an e-mail on May 8 from Danielle Guichard-Ashbrook, the school's associate dean of international students.

The e-mail advises MIT students from abroad to prepare for the new border inspection checks and suggested that they travel with copies of their current class registrations to provide additional evidence of their student status.

According to Guichard-Ashbrook's e-mail, all foreign students will face a secondary inspection upon entering or re-entering the US. It's unclear how long the procedure might take in individual cases.

Raymond Wong, a lawyer in New York, said he considers the change in student-visa inspections unnecessary as applied to Chinese students.

"Chinese students' names barely show up on US lists of potential terrorists," he said.

Colin Riley, a spokesman for Boston University, said he hasn't heard of any international students having a problem entering the US since the policy change took effect.

"This is the end of the semester; most students are returning to China. Maybe we will know more in the fall when students fly back to the US," he said.

"The point is to make sure that everyone who is coming in has a valid visa and also that the process is as smooth and efficient as possible."

Another change related to international students is the use by Customs and Border Patrol, as of April 30, of an electronic system for checking arrival/departure forms for non-immigrants, replacing the agency's paper-based system.

(China Daily 05/23/2013 page2)