LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Student visas don’t facilitate terror

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Unfortunately, nearly 10 years after Sept. 11, 2001, commentators and public officials too often continue to repeat inaccurate information about the connection between those tragic events and foreign students (“Closing the loophole on student visas,” Commentary, March 31).

It is not the case, as Rep. Gus Bilirakis, Florida Republican, states, that “several Sept. 11, 2001, terrorists overstayed their student visas.” In fact, just one of the 19 terrorists entered the country on a student visa; the other 18 had tourist or business visas. This has been confirmed by the 9/11 Commission and by then-Immigration and Naturalization Service and Department of State officials. Somehow foreign students make for easy scapegoats. The reality is that they are already exhaustively tracked - more so than any other non-immigrant visitor - and there is no evidence that would-be terrorists use students visas more often than they use any other type of visa to enter the United States.

That said, we strongly support efforts to limit the ability of individuals to abuse the foreign student visa system. Appropriately, the Student and Exchange Visitor Program, which manages the foreign student tracking system, is working to tighten its procedures for certifying schools to issue the documents needed to obtain student visas. The reality is that no system is immune to abuse. No matter how many layers of security we impose, we will never be able to know everything about people’s intentions.

What we do know is that over the years, few things have been more valuable to America’s security than the goodwill and connections of foreign students who have studied here and gone home to assume leadership roles in their countries. We cannot afford to squander this resource. To be sure, we must be serious about our security. But we must be careful not to close off the best assets we have for preserving that security.

VICTOR C. JOHNSON

Senior adviser, public policy

NAFSA: Association of International Educators

Washington

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