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Legislation Vies to Revitalize Foreign-Student Enrollment

Legislation Vies to Revitalize Foreign-Student Enrollment
By Kristin Bagnato

In an effort to reverse declining enrollment by foreign students, Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., last month introduced legislation intended to ease some of the more burdensome aspects of the student visa process.
As the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System — better known as Sevis — procedure stands now, prospective students must appear in person at a U.S. Department of State or Consular office in their country of origin. This is prohibitive for many applicants, especially those in rural or poor areas. Another difficulty is the requirement that the Sevis fee be paid in U.S. dollars, rather than in local currency.
The proposed legislation, while calling for a comprehensive plan to increase international enrollment, allows for the use of discretion when deciding whether to require a personal appearance and whether the fee must be paid in American dollars.
Another major provision of the International Student and Scholar Access Act involves cooperation between the State Department and the FBI in the form of shared databases that would more easily allow identification of potential terror risks.
Certain elements of the plan, including one allowing the Visas Mantis approval to be valid for the duration of status or of the student program (so that it’s easier for continuing students to travel) and a time guideline for visa processing, with expedited processing for applications that have been in the system for longer than 30 days, had been proposed before by international-student advocacy groups.
The measure removes the “intent to return to home country” requirement for applicants, replacing it with a requirement that a student attest to having the “intention, capability and sufficient financial resources” to study in the United States.
Last month the new $100 Sevis fee took effect, over the objections of foreign-student advocacy groups. While the U.S. Department of Homeland Security says it is considering ways to streamline the visa process and make it less difficult for foreign applicants, the agency cites the need for increased security post Sept. 11.
Coleman said in a statement, “Foreign study in the United States pumps $12 billion into our economy. We cannot afford to continue to watch this sector of our economy diminish. … By bringing in qualified foreign students and the investment dollars that come with them, we also help contain the cost of higher education for American students studying at home.”
In other international education developments, Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., has introduced legislation to eliminate part of the Higher Education Act that would set up an advisory committee on international student issues. The committee would be formed with the assistance of DHS to “increase accountability by providing … recommendations to Congress on international education issues for higher education.” Higher education and international student advocates fear that, if formed, the committee would have more than just an advisory role and in fact “could have the authority to interfere in the curricular activities of individual institutions,” according to the Coalition for International Education. 

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