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Updated 10:00 AM June 21, 2004
 

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  The International Center
A haven for people dealing with new visa regulations


The International Center receives a flurry of questions every day: If I return to China for a wedding, will my visa allow me back into the United States? How long will it take for my graduate student assistant to arrive in this country? What can a student do on a J1 (exchange visitor) visa versus an F1 (student) visa?

Director Rodolfo Altamirano even has received phone calls in the middle of the night from students and scholars stranded at the U.S. border.

In the midst of sweeping changes to national security and visa regulations, staff members at the International Center are working harder than ever to satisfy federal standards while meeting the needs of campus departments and international students and scholars.

Altamirano welcomes the questions. Indeed, he encourages anyone on campus with doubts or questions related to the increasingly complex issues of visas and international travel to contact his office.

"Immigration information takes a lot of time to understand," he says, holding as evidence of this fact a massive manual that provides information about international students and scholars. "You have to know all of this so that you give the right advice."

U-M has one of the largest international populations of any university in the nation, with more than 4,000 students and about 1,000 scholars hailing from more than 120 countries. The addition of family members increases the total number of immigration documents produced by the International Center to 7,000-9,000 a year, Altamirano says. To do that, seven to nine staff members deal directly with F1 and J1 work, he says.

His role is to provide leadership for the University community with both advice and education related to visa and immigration issues. He is the primary designated school official for the University's F1 program, which is overseen by the Department of Homeland Security, and the responsible officer for the J program, which is run by the Department of State.

In addition to answering questions, the International Center also conducts active outreach through e-mails and programs to students and scholars so they can better understand the parameters of their visas and the possible results of international travel. He notes that while the office gives well-informed advice and keeps apprised of the constantly changing visa policies, "nothing is 100 percent," and the final decision rests with consulate and border officials.

One of the biggest changes in recent years has been the implementation of the Student and Exchange Visitors Information System (SEVIS), a federal Internet-based database system designed to provide users with access to accurate and current information on nonimmigrant foreign students, exchange visitors and their dependents. The International Center plays a lead role in providing reports through SEVIS.

In addition, State Department security clearance requirements may increase the time needed to obtain a visa. Other regulations have led to increased scrutiny for particular areas of study, including many science and engineering fields, Altamirano notes.

Because of the regulations, he says, "students and scholars feel they have been singled out." The goal, he says, is to continue bringing the best and brightest to the University, in spite of the sometimes perplexing and time-consuming regulations.

"We want to be a haven," Altamirano says. "Our main intent is to be a home away from home for our international students and scholars."

Anyone on campus with questions or concerns about visa immigration issues and regulations should contact Altamirano at rudiea@umich.edu or the International Center at (734) 936-4180.

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