- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 9, 2002

Immigration officials tightened visa rules for foreign students and proposed new restrictions yesterday that limited the time a tourist or business person could stay in the country.
Effective immediately, foreigners wishing to study in America must obtain a student visa before beginning classes. Students previously could request a visa and begin course work while their application was processed.
The Immigration and Naturalization Service also is proposing to make it harder to switch to a student visa after a visitor arrives in the country. In return, the agency would speed decisions on such requests, issuing them within 30 days.
Two of the September 11 hijackers, Mohamed Atta of Egypt and Marwan Al-Shehhi of the United Arab Emirates, came to the United States on visitor visas and later applied for student visas. They began training at a Florida flight school in July 2000, more than a year before the INS approved their student visas.
At the time of the attacks, approximately 600,000 foreign students were enrolled in U.S. colleges and universities. INS officials acknowledged they could not verify the whereabouts of many and promised changes to better track them.
The INS also is proposing to reduce from six months to 30 days the amount of time a business traveler or tourist can stay in America. The agency also will make it more difficult to extend a stay.
Visitors will have to show unexpected or compelling reasons for an extension, such as the need for medical treatment or a delay in completing a business matter, said an INS official who did not want to be identified.
The INS said about 10 million people received tourist visas in 2000, the latest year with available data, and three-quarters of them stayed less than a month. Another 2.5 million traveled to America on business and stayed an average 13 days.
"These new rules strike the appropriate balance between INS' mission to ensure that our nation's immigration laws are followed and stop illegal immigration, and our desire to welcome legitimate visitors to the United States," INS Commissioner James Ziglar said.
"While we recognize the overwhelming majority who come to us as visitors are honest and law-abiding, the events of September 11 remind us there will always be those who seek to cause us harm."
Under another proposed rule, INS wants to require people who get final deportation orders to surrender themselves within 30 days. Those who don't will be denied any chance to appeal or seek asylum.
Currently, about 90 percent of non-detained individuals who receive final deportation orders fail to surrender, according to the INS. Those who do often appeal or seek asylum.
The proposed rules are open to public comment.

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