INS Sets New Rules for Student Visas
April 9, 2002
Filed at 9:45 a.m. ET
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Hoping to better track foreign visitors and keep out would-be terrorists,
immigration officials are tightening student visa rules and proposing shorter U.S. trips for tourists and
Effective immediately, any foreigner wishing to study in the United States must have an approved
student visa before taking courses, the Immigration and Naturalization Service said Monday.
The INS also is proposing to restrict tourists and business travelers to 30-day visits, down from the
current six months.
The INS has been under intense scrutiny since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, with some in Congress
calling for the agency to be dismantled. Supporters and critics agree that the agency is burdened with
conflicting missions to help immigrants enter and stay in the country and to identify and keep out those
who try to enter illegally or who may pose a danger.
The restrictions on travelers potentially could affect more than 2 million visits to the United States a
year and were immediately criticized by people in the travel industry.
``Any time we make it more difficult -- erect barriers or tighten barriers -- for people to come into our
country, we give them incentive to go someplace else,'' said Elise Wander of the Travel Industry
Association of America.
The INS says it had 10 million tourist visa admissions to the United States in 2000, the latest year with
available data. In three-quarters of those admissions, the visitors stayed less than a month. In 2.5
million cases, business travelers stayed an average 13 days.
``The reason to make these changes is to increase our control on who is coming in and increase our
awareness of what they intend to do while here,'' said INS spokesman Bill Strassberger.
Visitors would have to show unexpected or compelling reasons for an extension of a travel visa, such
as the need for medical treatment or a delay in completing a business matter, Strassberger said. The
maximum length of a visa extension would be reduced from one year to six months.
Before Sept. 11, INS Commissioner James Ziglar's focus was on improving the agency's service and
cutting waiting times for immigration benefits. Those remain priorities, but under pressure from
Congress -- especially since the attacks -- Ziglar has been forced to give precedence to keeping
better track of foreign visitors and tightening immigration policies.
``These new rules strike the appropriate balance between INS' mission to ensure that our nation's
immigration laws are followed and stop illegal immigration and our desire to welcome legitimate
visitors to the United States,'' Ziglar said.
The INS believes requiring approval before students enroll will ensure they have received appropriate
security checks before entering the country.
The INS also is proposing that people who want to switch from a tourist or business visa to a student
visa return to their home country to apply. A person now can switch while in America. In return, the
INS says it would speed up decisions on such requests, issuing them within 30 days.
Two of the Sept. 11 hijackers, Mohammed Atta of Egypt and Marwan Al-Shehhi of the United Arab
Emirates, came to the United States on visitor visas and later applied for student visas. They began
training at a Florida flight school in July 2000, more than a year before the INS approved their student
At the time of the attacks, approximately 600,000 foreign students were enrolled in U.S. colleges and
universities. INS officials acknowledged they could not verify the whereabouts of many and promised
changes to better track them.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who has pushed for an improved student tracking system, called the changes a
beginning. But she said the changes will work only when INS has implemented the student tracking
system. It is scheduled to be up and running next year.
``Right now the INS has no idea where most of these students are,'' said Feinstein, D-Calif.
A Senate committee was scheduled Tuesday to consider border security legislation Feinstein is
cosponsoring that, among other things, would expand the number of institutions required to report to
the student tracking system and make passports issued after 2003 be tamper-resistant.
Under another proposed rule, INS wants to require people who get final deportation orders to
surrender themselves within 30 days. Those who don't will be denied any chance to appeal or seek
The proposed rules are open to public comment for 30 days.