The United States government plans to charge international students a fee to fund an anti-terrorism monitoring system that will keep track of their addresses and academic status at all times.
To pay the $95 fee, scheduled to be imposed this autumn, students will have to send the money in US currency by express mail if they are unable to pay by credit card over the internet. This could add an additional cost that may present some third world students with an insurmountable obstacle.
Almost every leading university association in the US has weighed in against the plan, which grew out of a report by an anti-terrorism commission after the bombing of New York's World Trade Centre. One of the bombers had entered the US on a student visa.
The fee, which will fund a system to monitor all international students, is a "looming disaster", said Terry Hartle, senior vice-president of the American Council of Education, part of an anti-fee coalition of 48 national organisations and universities. The fee will, he said, "result in an insurmountable technological and financial barrier" for international students.
Under the proposed timetable, the fees will take effect a month after the rules are issued. Depending on when the rule is implemented, some students may be prevented from starting classes in the autumn, critics say. Among others, the US embassy in China has lodged a protest at the plan.
Mr Hartle said the fee was "a barrier that will undermine the ability of students to study in the US" and will affect the estimated $12.3 billion that international students add to the economy. "The system will not only put dollars at risk," he said, "it will also threaten the goodwill fostered among international students who in the past have taken home fond impressions of our country."
Meanwhile, Mr Hartle said, other nations had been working to ease the way for international students. The planned fees "will do more to assist foreign competitors in enticing these students away from the US than any single previous measure".
For the past four years, the number of international students in the US has been flat. This year, the number rose by 5 per cent to a record 514,723, the Institute of International Education said.