- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 20, 2001

Congressional efforts to impose immediate restrictions on student visas in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks have stalled despite worries that the system could let terrorists slip into the United States.
Now that Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat, has backed off plans for a moratorium on student visas, changes to the current procedures will be more limited, say congressional staffers and immigration analysts.
In response to her proposal, a host of university officials and college presidents who were worried about losing foreign student tuition and fees lobbied hard against the change, prompting Mrs. Feinstein to shelve the plans.
"She has spoken with the universities and the idea is off the table," said her spokesman, Jim Hock.
Proposed legislation in the House and Senate instead will focus on tightening visa application requirements for foreign students before they enter the country. New rules also would force educational institutions to keep the Immigration and Naturalization Service informed about the foreign students' studies as long as the they are in the United States.
None of the pending bills would cap or otherwise limit foreign students.
To avoid the moratorium, the universities promised Mrs. Feinstein they would step up cooperation with the INS to track foreign students' activities, Mr. Hock said.
Many colleges had been stalling the INS as it set up a new computerized system for foreign students that was mandated by a 1996 immigration law. That obstructionist mentality has "nearly disappeared," said Michael Becraft, acting deputy INS commissioner.
The agency "will meet, and intends to beat" a 2003 deadline to have the system in place, Mr. Becraft told the House Education and the Workforce Committee last month.
Mrs. Feinstein called for a moratorium in response to information that one of the hijackers, Hani Hanjour, had traveled to the United States on a student visa. Hanjour, who helped take over the American Airlines jet that crashed into the Pentagon, had a visa for study at the Berlitz Language School on the campus of Holy Names College in Oakland, Calif. He never attended classes.
Mrs. Feinstein's proposal highlighted the extent to which public and private universities and colleges depended on foreign students. About 525,000 non-U.S. students are enrolled in the United States, according to the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities.
While they represented 3.4 percent of the total enrollment, they accounted for 5.9 percent of the $75.5 billion that all students in the United States paid in tuition and fees for the 1999-2000 school year, the group said.
"It's not a budget-busting number, but they are an important source of revenue," said Jon Fuller, a senior fellow with the organization.
Critics of current laws said universities have put money above the anti-terrorism campaign.
"Finances have trumped security here," said Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, a group seeking tighter laws. "The moratorium would have made sense, but the cost is such that the universities seem willing to take the risk."
Importantly from a financial perspective, foreign students receive no discounts. They do not qualify for federal aid or for assistance from individual colleges. At public schools, they cannot get the lower in-state tuitions, Mr. Fuller said.
A six-month interruption of the flow of tuition-paying students would knock out an entire academic year and would disrupt graduate programs that rely on foreigners who often help teach undergraduates, Mr. Fuller said.


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