U.S. State Department Bars Foreign Students From Renewing Their Visas in Canada or Mexico

U.S. State Department Bars Foreign Students From Renewing Their Visas in Canada or Mexico

Nov 30, 2001 The Chronicle of Higher Education

 

By SARA HEBEL

 

Washington

 

Foreign students studying in the United States are being temporarily prohibited from renewing their visas in Canada and Mexico if they are not citizens of those countries. The practice of doing so has been popular with some foreigners who want to change their visa status quickly or who need to renew their visas, which can be done only outside the United States.

 

Some campus officials who work with international students say the policy change -- which the U.S. State Department announced on November 19 -- has led them to advise some students whose visas have expired to cancel holiday trips home this year or to forgo other travels, such as those to academic conferences overseas.

 

These students, who otherwise might have filed new visa applications in Canada or Mexico, may not be able to renew their visas in their home countries quickly enough to allow them to re-enter the United States in time for their classes, the campus officials say. Foreign students had been allowed to set an appointment time with officials in Canada and Mexico to renew their visas, making the process more efficient in those countries. Students from some countries -- such as China, South Korea, and

India, where there is a perception that U.S. visas are growing harder to get -- are worried that they would be denied a new visa if they have to go home to reapply.

 

"Midyear travel, if you need a new visa, is very insecure," said Jerry D. Wilcox, director of the international office at the University of Texas at Austin. "Everything is up in the air as to how fast you can get processed."

 

Since September 11, State Department officials have announced that some applicants for U.S. visas will face additional processing requirements and security-clearance checks. Because those procedures may delay the issuance of some nonimmigrant visas for students and workers, State Department officials were worried that applicants could become "marooned for a lengthy period of time" in Canada or Mexico if they did not issue the new policy preventing individuals from seeking new visas there.

 

A State Department official emphasized on Thursday that the new prohibition was "very temporary." The official said the department expected to lift it once additional measures are in place to prevent terrorists from entering the United States.

 

Campus officials who work with international students said they felt that, even though the new rules are inconvenient for students, the department was acting responsibly. Federal officials were smart, they said, to prevent students from being trapped in other countries and to temporarily plug a potential hole in national security.

 

"The State Department is trying to walk a very fine line of doing their part to address security measures while at the same time wanting to keep open positive relations with other countries, and to help the United States remain open as a country," said

Susan J. D'Amico, associate director of the international-services office at George Washington University.

 

The campus officials, though, said some of the new immigration guidelines are vague, causing broader concerns about obstacles any foreign student traveling to Canada or Mexico for any reason might face.

 

Under a process known as "automatic revalidation," foreign students and other nonimmigrants who are living in the United

States with expired visas have been able to re-enter the United States from Canada and Mexico -- and in some cases, certain

Caribbean countries -- without renewing their visas, as long as they were in good standing with United States officials when they left and had been gone for no more than 30 days.

 

But the officials said federal guidelines have not been clear about whether the extra security clearances now required of some individuals might prevent some students who travel to Canada or Mexico from re-entering the United States without reapplying for a visa. Those students, too, then could get stuck in those countries, the campus officials worried.

 

Mr. Wilcox said he also has concerns about the general direction of recent immigration rules for students. He fears that they could end up providing a disincentive for foreigners studying on American campuses to ever return home or take a job there.

"You are scaring people to say good-bye forever to their families," he said.

 

Copyright 2001 by The Chronicle of Higher Education