US clamps down on student visas

November 2, 2001

President Bush issued a directive this week indicating tighter controls on overseas students arriving in the United States.

His announcement, made at the first session of the Homeland Security Council set up after September 11, was short on detail but clear on intent. While he made it plain the US welcomed international students and other visitors, he said it would aim to prohibit the education and training of foreign nationals who would use their training to "harm the US and its allies".

Announcing a "thorough review" of the student visa process, President Bush said: "We plan on making sure that if a person has applied for a student visa, they actually go to college or a university. Therefore, we are going to start asking a lot of questions that previously have not been asked."

In evidence to a congressional committee this week, David Ward, president of the American Council on Education, noted that in 1988, before the first attack on the World Trade Center, the US Immigration and Naturalization Service dropped a requirement for colleges to share information they routinely collected on overseas students. It was only after the 1993 attack, when one of the bombers entered the country on a student visa, that an electronic database - the Student and Exchange Visitor Information Service - was established to track international students. That system is being piloted at 20 university and college campuses.

Congress passed legislation in 1996 that requires the tracking system to be in place by 2003.

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