SCMP Saturday, September 22, 2001

Overseas student visa curbs feared

CARRIE STURROCK of Knight Ridder

Educators fear that international students may find it harder to obtain visas following news that one of the terrorists who helped pilot a plane into the Pentagon apparently had a student visa to study English.
Hani Hanjour, 26, had enrolled at a Berlitz ELS Language Centre in Oakland, California for November 2000, but never arrived. Authorities believe he was a pilot and one of five men who crashed American Airlines Flight 77 into the Pentagon.
Some observers now predict that international students, particularly those from Arab nations, will have trouble obtaining student visas. "I think they're going to look with much greater scrutiny at people in future," said Patty Blum, an immigration law expert at University of California, Berkeley. "It seems to me there will be a much greater concern about the misuse of these types of visas."
Berlitz runs 33 ELS centres around the country. Accepted students receive eligibility certificates for F-1 non-immigrant student visas. They undergo criminal background checks, but other than that they only need prove that they plan to attend school, can afford their living expenses and intend to return to their home country.
In the last financial year, 284,053 people entered the US on an F-1 non-immigrant student visa.
Although Hanjour never showed up at the ELS centre in Oakland, the Immigration and Naturalisation Service does not have a procedure for schools to report international no-shows, local education officials said.
That he had received a student visa worries Yenbo Wu, director of the Office of International Programmes at San Francisco State University.
"I think this whole thing may have a negative impact on our international exchange," he said. "We don't want to be isolationists. We want to become more globalised," he said.