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International students to face obstacles

International students wanting to study at U-M and other colleges and universities have and will continue to encounter increasing difficulties in coming months, experts say. But panelists at an Oct. 16 discussion on changes for international students were clear that U-M is going to take a proactive role in the process of finalizing new initiatives.

There are three key questions administrators are working with the federal government to find solutions for, and which panelists discussed:

Who gets in?
Students from some nations, especially China and Middle Eastern countries, already are finding it more difficult to get student visas. There is a stricter standard for evaluating applications for males ages 18­45 from predominantly Muslim countries, said Terry Hartle of the American Council on Education. Non-immigrants from Iran, Iraq, Libya and Sudan are subject to special fingerprinting and photographing. They must report to the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) in person to confirm registration information, and upon departing the United States, they must be accompanied by a Departure Control Officer.

Regarding disparities in evaluating international students, "the University would not condone racial profiling," said Earl Lewis, dean of the Horace H. Rackham School of Graduate Studies.

However, while some may question the legality of these procedures, "there are an awful lot of people who think it makes good sense, legal or not," Hartle said. The higher education community is among a minority of voices arguing for further discussion, while the general population is not very sympathetic to the plight of international students, Hartle said.

"There are certain doors we have been able to open that have proved very helpful, that other institutions may not have access to," said Cynthia Wilbanks, vice president for government relations. "The Michigan congressional delegation has been very supportive and (has) helped keep lines of communication open."

How do we keep track of students once they are in the country?
The INS has created the Student Exchange Visa Information System (SEVIS), an electronic tracking system. The INS will be able to access the names, residences, educational status and courses of study.

SEVIS is scheduled to go into effect Jan. 30. But Hartle has little confidence the deadline will be met. Regulations governing SEVIS still are in draft form, and meeting the deadline, Hartle said, is a "technological moon shot."

This presents a problem for the University's International Center, the office responsible for providing student information for SEVIS. Without the guiding regulations, what constitutes compliance is still unknown.

"We have put together a steering committee to coordinate information we feel INS will want us to provide," said John Godfrey, assistant dean of international education at the Rackham School.

What do we let students do once they are here?
International students who get visas still will face restrictions once they get to U-M. For instance, individuals wanting to study select bio-hazardous agentssuch as anthrax, Ebola and the plaguewill have to undergo background checks, and may be denied access to these agents altogether, Hartle said.

There are two distinct areas of research affected, said Tobin Smith, director of federal relations for research, based at the University's Washington office: classified research and fundamental research. "We need to make sure there is no gray area between these two categories so that our students are not inadvertently hindered from legitimate research," he said.

One of U-M's key roles will be keeping in regular communication with international students, panel members said. "We must explain new requirements to our international students and be clear about the consequences of not fulfilling them so they can act on their own prerogative," said Rodolfo Altamirano, director of the International Center.

Panelists said faculty should discuss these issues with students and others in their departments.

"If you have students in the field overseas," Lewis said to faculty members in the audience, "you should be in contact with them now." He advised faculty to warn international students that if they go home for the holidays, they may not be let back in the country.


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