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October 29, 2001
Volume 79, Number 44
CENEAR 79 44 p. 12
ISSN 0009-2347
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Feinstein bill calls on universities to track foreign student visa holders


In the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) plans to introduce legislation requiring universities and the Immigration & Naturalization Service (INS) to better track foreign student visa holders. In the past 10 years, she says, more than 16,000 students from nations known to sponsor terrorism have entered the U.S., which has no system for tracking their whereabouts or status.

"This is not a new problem. We have had plenty of warning of the serious weak nesses in our immigration system that led to the horrific September 11 attacks."
Sen. Dianne Feinstein
Feinstein's bill calls for $32.3 million in immediate funds to pay for the INS's Foreign Student Electronic Tracking System. That system was mandated, but not funded, in a 1996 immigration law. Feinstein describes existing INS computer systems as "archaic" and "often nonfunctioning."

Feinstein says that she wants schools and universities to take on some of the responsibility for tracking foreign students. Her bill will require schools to report to INS quarterly on foreign students' visa and academic status, including visa expiration, as well as any disciplinary action taken against the student by the school.

"It sounds like a perfectly sensible plan," says Ronald Breslow, a professor of chemistry at Columbia University. "The institution should notify INS when foreign students transfer or leave. I am astounded that it's not done already."

"It does seem reasonable" to ask universities to keep the government informed about the foreign student visa holders enrolled at their institutions, says Caltech Vice Provost David L. Goodstein. "I just hope that it does not become a function of the university to become a watchdog for the government."

Whatever reforms are implemented, Goodstein says, lawmakers should keep in mind that U.S. universities "have become a beacon to the rest of the world, especially in the sciences. Anything we do to damage that is not to our benefit and not to the world's benefit."

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