- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 14, 2001

As part of the war on terrorism, the Bush administration is working to develop a new, security-minded approach to dealing with abusers of the student-visa program, which permits more than 500,000 persons a year to enter the United States for educational purposes. "We plan on making sure that, if a person has applied for a student visa, they actually go to college or a university," President Bush said recently. The change is desperately needed. Right now, if a student were to "come in and lie on the application, there is no way for us to determine if they are lying," San Diego Community College Chancellor Augustine Gallego said. "People can be bought off."
This can have deadly consequences. Hani Hanjour, a Saudi national and one of the suicidal terrorists in the plane that crashed into the Pentagon, entered the United States late last year on a student visa, ostensibly to study English at a college in Oakland, Calif. As with other foreign students, all Hanjour needed to do was to provide the language school with transcripts and a bank letter showing that he could afford the cost of the program. The school returned an immigration form known as an I-20, which Hanjour used to obtain a student visa from a U.S. consulate. But Hanjour never showed up for class, and it doesn't seem as if the school, the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) or anyone else bothered to look for him to find out why.
Hanjour was hardly the first terrorist to enter the United States through the student-visa program. Eyad Ismoil, a Kuwaiti-born Jordanian citizen, entered Wichita State University in 1989. He dropped out of school after several semesters. In February 1993, he drove a truck bomb into a garage below the World Trade Center, killing six persons and wounding nearly 1,000 more.
There are ways to improve the system. In 1996, Rep. Lamar Smith persuaded Congress to enact a law that would require the INS to computerize the visa process. But, in 1999, when the INS published draft regulations to expand the program, it was inundated with complaints from school officials who bitterly objected to a requirement that their schools collect a $95-per-student application fee. Congress and the Clinton administration backed off. In the wake of September 11, however, efforts to change the system must be accelerated.


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