Universities step up monitoring of foreign students

Monday, July 22nd 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Oklahoma universities are stepping up monitoring of almost 8,000 foreign students in the state as part of a nationwide crackdown on foreigners entering the country since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Universities began entering information about foreign students into a nationwide computer-tracking system called the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System on July 1.

Universities must comply with the new monitoring system by Jan. 30 or be barred from accepting more foreign students.

The state's colleges must update the data each semester. Schools have between 30 and 60 days to report international students who leave college.

``This promises to revolutionize the way schools interact'' regarding information about foreign students, said Chris Bentley, a spokesman for the Immigration and Naturalization Service in Washington, D.C.

Since Sept. 11, the INS also has been running police checks on international students before they receive college admission forms.

``There are some delays in visa issuance for male students from Muslim countries, who have to wait approximately 20 days...to allow the State Department to do background checks,'' said Joanna Snyder, director of OU's international student office.

Enrollment of students from predominantly Muslim countries in the Middle East is relatively low in Oklahoma.

Saudi Arabia leads with about 100 students, followed by Lebanon with 57. Only one student from Afghanistan and one from Iraq were enrolled in Oklahoma schools in 2000-2001.

Norman attorney Jon Velie specializes in immigration law and has handled several cases under the post-Sept. 11 guidelines.

In one recent case, a Saudi Arabian student at OU dipped below 12 credit hours a semester when he dropped a class _ a minor issue before Sept. 11.

OU followed the letter of the law and refused to re-enroll him the next semester. The student conferred with Velie's law firm, which conferred with INS. They advised the student to return to Saudi Arabia.

At OU, the nearly 1,600 international students come from 104 countries. Nationwide, about 1 million foreign students are enrolled in colleges in the United States.

The new tracking system is intended to ensure that international students who come to the U.S. attend a college.

Velie said that because of the stepped-up rules, ``the best and brightest'' students who have always been sought by the United States are facing hurdles.

Many of them also have been sought by businesses and corporations, but hiring them has become more difficult.

``Everybody completely agrees that security needs to be tightened, but we cannot be so scared that we shut down our borders,'' Velie said.

``Let's utilize the law the right way _ to get rid of the right people.''