The U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service informed Georgetown’s Office of International Programs on Wednesday that the university will have to comply with federal regulations to electronically provide basic information pertaining to its non-immigrant students and exchange visitors by Aug. 1, 2003.

Nearly 200,000 foreign students are enrolled in higher education institutions throughout the United States. Approximately 2,000 individuals, including 325 undergraduates, representing more than 130 foreign countries, study, conduct research and/or teach at Georgetown.

The Student and Exchange Visitor Program, a joint venture between the INS, the Department of State and the Department of Education, will receive the information through the Internet-based, Student and Exchange Visitor Information System. It enables schools and exchange program sponsors to transmit electronic information and event notifications via the Internet to the INS and the Department of State throughout a student or exchange visitor’s stay in the U.S.

Georgetown University will provide the following information: name, place and date of birth, country of citizenship, address, status (part- or full-time student), date of commencement of studies, degree program and field of study, any form of student employment, number of credits completed each semester, I-20 and application for I-20, current address, place and date of entry into the U.S. and any academic disciplinary actions taken against the student due to a criminal conviction.

The Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 mandated that the INS establish electronic reporting of this data. Since 1998, the INS and the Department of State have run a program that electronically tracks 10,000 foreign students enrolled in twenty-one colleges, universities and training programs in the South, entitled the Coordinated Interagency Partnership Regulating International Students, CIPRIS. Because Congress mandated that an INS-run electronic system be self-funded, the INS was unable to create a comprehensive system to track all foreign students until recently.

After Sept. 11, Congress appropriated $36.8 million to the INS to finally implement the all-encompassing SEVIS program. SEVIS will now automate the manual data collection process that schools and exchange visitor programs are already utilizing to gather information on their students and exchange visitors.

Kathy Bellows, Assistant Dean and Associate Director at the Office of International Programs, explained the connection between the university and the INS.

“Georgetown, as well as all the other institutions, has always had an official, legal relationship with the INS for decades. All universities and colleges around the country have always been required to keep particular data on international students who come here and the students are aware of this,” she said. “When the students get here, they have to sign a paper stating that they know that this is the situation. We go through the same experience in other countries as Americans. It’s a normal, international relations process.”

The call for a more efficient tracking system to monitor foreign students originated from the aftermath of the bombing of the World Trade Center in New York City on Feb. 23, 1996, claiming six lives and injuring over 1,000. Because one of the terrorists had entered the U.S. on a student visa, Congress was prompted to pass IIRIRA.

Benjamin Orbach, a research associate at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, published a research piece on the subject entitled, “Tracking Students from Terrorism-Supporting Middle Eastern Countries: An Update” to assess the system.

“Foreign students and scholars contribute greatly to U.S. higher education. Yet, a very small number have exploited the student visa process either to commit acts of terrorism, such as the World Trade Center bombing, or to pursue studies that directly benefit their countries’ pursuit of weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles,” Orbach said.

Orbach emphasizes that the U.S. issued 9,767 visas to students of countries that the Department of State labels `terrorism-supporting countries,’ such as Iran, Iraq, Libya, Syria and Sudan, between 1991 and 1996. “A high number of these students study subjects that could help their respective countries to develop programs of biological, chemical and nuclear weapons,” he said.

Another government agency, the FBI, recently requested that certain universities voluntarily submit contact information pertaining to foreign students and faculty. The FBI claims that such information is critical in determining whether students and faculty may have ties to known or suspected terrorists or may serve as informers. The Department of Education argues that such an action without a court order or subpoena is illegal, while the FBI and Justice Department officials say recent antiterrorism language in the USA Patriot Act allows schools to provide the data without notifying those involved. The FBI has yet to ask such a favor of the university, Bellows said.

“The FBI has contacted various individuals who are here studying, I think they’ve contacted one or two of our students. I have not heard first hand of that, all I’ve heard is that the students have reported to my staff. This was right after Sept. 11 and it was very benign,” she said.

Bellows, for her part, does not anticipate such federal regulations negatively impacting the pool of international applicants.

“I don’t think it will affect international student admissions. However, it might slightly affect the advising process because one of the requirements is that a student may not drop below a full course of study [12 hours per week] unless they are authorized by the international office,” she said. “The student has to go to the international office at their university prior to dropping a full course of study or they’re in big trouble. And you can only drop for one semester during your entire academic career.”

Orbach continues to consider a positive outcome of these federal regulations. “If students are tracked and accounted for, there is a decreased chance that they will be viewed as potential security concerns. This could positively affect legislation related to foreign students. The existence of an electronic tracking system that safeguards U.S. national security could also lead to an increase in both government and private funding for programs that promote international educational and cultural exchanges.”

The university will host eight Afghan students for a weeklong forum on campus from Jan. 25-31 to explore Afghanistan’s reconstruction with 10 Georgetown undergraduates during a conference, “Blueprint for the Future: Connecting Afghan and American Students.” Students will work on a “blueprint” document on key issues Afghanistan faces in its redevelopment efforts.

The program continues the work accomplished through the Afghanistan-America Summit on Recovery and Reconstruction, held at Georgetown University in July 2002. The summit featured U.S. officials and policy makers and leading academic experts and senior officials of the new Afghan government as they explored solutions to some of the most challenging issues confronting Afghanistan’s recovery efforts.

“This program expands upon the efforts that have already begun on campus regarding the rebuilding efforts in Afghanistan,” Georgetown University President John J. DeGioia said in a press release on Jan. 23. “And this unique opportunity provides young people with the chance to engage in dialogue about the issues and offer their input in addressing the challenges.”

Finally, in defense of the university’s commitment and concern for its foreign students, Michael Vande Berg, director of international programs, said, “International educational exchange is a vital part of Georgetown’s educational experience. Our campus community is enriched by the diversity of international students who choose to study at Georgetown and the number of students who study abroad. Georgetown University is committed to the value of international education as a powerful tool to promote peace and understanding around the world.”

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