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The GW Hatchet


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The GW Hatchet

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New law tightens student visa requirements

International students on campus said a new law that could mark them for increased monitoring does not concern them as long as new measures are used to protect national security.

“I feel secure and safe because I know they’re doing something,” said graduate student Laura Verduzco, who studies in the United States on a student visa from Mexico.

The U.S.A. Patriot Act, signed into law Oct. 26, tightens requirements to obtain a student visa and makes it easier for schools to disclose academic records of foreign students such as attendance records. It also requires enforcement of a 1996 law that created a student visa-monitoring program.

President George W. Bush last week announced an increased effort to track foreign student with visas.

About one-fourth of GW’s 2,000 international students are undergraduates, according to GW Institutional Research. Of the 475 undergraduates, 116 come to GW from Middle Eastern countries other than Israel.

Verduzco, programming director for the International Student Society, said she does not care if her records are released because she is doing nothing wrong.

“I’m here to study, and if I’m not really going to classes it’s because there’s something wrong,” said Verduzco, who is working towards a doctorate in engineering management.

Other international students agreed.

“Actually (reviewing attendance records) would be a good idea. It would only make sense for them to look at it,” said Sid Choraria, a first-year graduate student in computer science from India. “I can’t see why that should be an issue for a student who is coming into the country to really study.”

The new law was enacted in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, in which one of the alleged hijackers, Hani Hanjour, entered the country with a student visa but never attended the school he had applied to. The other 18 alleged hijackers held tourist and business visas.

This clause that gives schools more freedom to release academic records is similar to the existing health and safety loophole in the Family Education Rights and Protection Act (FERPA), said Darren Bakst, president of the Council on Law in Higher Education, a nationwide organization that advocates student privacy.

He said the new legislation clarifies FERPA, which outlines the information colleges can disclose to third parties.

“A lot of people think it’s kind of questionable,” said Bakst, who graduated from GW in 1989 and got his master’s degree in business at GW in 1991. “It makes it very clear that colleges can release this information under narrow standards.”

The law only allows the attorney general or an authorized assistant attorney general to request the information, and a judge must then approve the request.

“I don’t think it’s that overboard; it could have been worse,” Bakst said. “Our organization is definitely concerned with privacy protection, and I think they did a good job of striking a balance.”

The law also sets aside $36 million for a program approved in 1996 but never implemented, including a searchable foreign student database.

While measures to tighten monitoring are slightly unfair, students said, the government should be able to track students as long as it does not hinder an innocent person’s everyday life.

“They are visiting our country,” freshman Esther Yegelwel said. “But I don’t think they should be followed.”

The legislation passed last month, which was proposed by Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), once included a failed provision to stop all student visas from countries the U.S. State Department considers terrorist-sponsoring states.

While Congress did not approve the measure, students said it raises
concern on how willing government officials are to close U.S. borders.

The Iranian Cultural Society circulated a petition at its kick-off party Friday against a ban on student visas. Iran is one of the seven countries listed as a sponsor of terrorism.

“People work so hard to get here,” sophomore Farima Kermani said. “Students haven’t done anything to be denied of that right (to study in the United States).

An ICS member, Kermani said while she is an American citizen, she has family in Iran and visits there.

“It’s a frightening era,” Kermani said. “It’s really not fear. It’s really about human rights.”

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