SCMP Saturday, September 29, 2001

US looks at six-month visa freeze for students


American lawmakers are calling for tough visa restrictions, including a six-month suspension of student visas, following the September 11 terrorist attacks on the US.
Republican and Democratic lawmakers are pushing for tight controls on visa applicants, including background checks and a sophisticated tracking system to monitor visitors once they arrive.
"Right now we have no ability to identify, locate or remove foreigners who deliberately remain in this country long after their tourist or student visas expire," said Senator Kit Bond, a Republican.
He said he would introduce legislation to close loopholes in the visa system that may have been exploited by the suspected hijackers.
A measure planned by Senator Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat, would go even further, suspending student visas for six months while the Immigration and Naturalisation Service readies a background check system.
Meanwhile there has been an exodus of Middle Eastern students from American institutions, many called home by parents fearful of war and anti-Arab sentiment following the terrorist attacks. Some 47 students from the United Arab Emirates have quit Washington State University in Pullman. There are also reports of about 100 Arab students leaving other US colleges in the wake of the suicide hijackings.
Of the 570,000 foreign students in the US, about 40,000 of them are from the Middle East, said the American Council on Education.
The Saudi Arabian Government is providing free airfares to students who wish to go home. Those who choose to do so will not lose their government scholarships.
Kuwait has more than 3,000 students in the US, and those who are afraid to stay in the US are receiving Kuwaiti government assistance to return home, but are being asked to return for the spring semester, said Kuwaiti Embassy spokesman Shafeeq Ghabra, who has a daughter who is a junior at American University.