UNITED24 - Make a charitable donation in support of Ukraine!

Homeland Security

27 March 2003

House Science Committee Calls for Review of Visa Policy Changes

(Changes Harm Science Education and Exchange, Colleges Say) (880)
By Charlene Porter
Washington File Staff Writer
Washington -- The U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Science
is asking the General Accounting Office (GAO) to conduct an inquiry
into new visa approval procedures and policies that have been adopted
since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
In a letter to the GAO, the investigative branch of Congress, the
committee asks for a review of the impact of the new policies, the
results of visa adjudication, the visa denial rates, and the
particular effect of these policies on visa applicants engaged in
scientific research or studies. The committee distributed the letter
at a hearing held March 26 at which these issues were discussed with
representatives of the higher education community and a U.S. State
Department official.
The new procedures were mandated by Congress under laws passed both
before the 2001 attacks and after. Implementation of the new
procedures and the development of Internet-based technologies to
replace an obsolete paper system were accelerated upon discovery that
the 19 hijackers who took thousands of American lives had entered this
country on approved visas.
"The attacks of September 11 made clear the potential threat posed by
the abuse of student visas and our shocking inability to counter that
threat," said Science Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert, a
Republican from New York, as he opened the hearing. "The
Administration and the Congress deserve credit for putting in place
new and stricter protocols and erring on the side of caution. But that
said, the current situation is untenable."
Citing numerous reports from colleges and universities attempting to
work with the new system as they admit foreign students to study on
their campuses, Boelhert described a "backlog of visas" that has
reached a "critical point."
"The reason for concern is that unnecessarily impeding the flow of
students and scholars in and of itself can erode our national
security," Boehlert said. The intellectual vitality of the nation is
enhanced when the United States welcomes foreign minds, Boehlert said,
expressing a view broadly held on his committee and throughout the
academic community.
The committee prepared an extensive background document prior to the
hearing outlining the issues (available at
http://www.house.gov/science/hearings/full03/mar26/charter.htm). It
documents problems occurring not only with students trying to obtain
visas to enter educational institutions, but with scientists
attempting to join U.S. colleagues in collaborative research.
"There have been reports that hundreds of foreign scientists, some
eminent in their fields, have been blocked from entering the United
States, slowing research on diseases such as AIDS and West Nile virus
and in areas such as space science and genetic mapping. More
troubling, visa delays and denials even plagues multi-million dollar
research projects funded by the federal government and its agencies --
the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation and
others," according to the science committee's background document.
David Ward, president of the American Council on Education,
represented the council's more than 1,800 members when he testified
before the House Science Committee. He described three main types of
problems: the information technology system to track the entry and
status of foreign students -- known as the Student Exchange Visa
Information System (SEVIS) -- "does not work as promised;" "extensive
visa delays for students and scholars" have become common, disrupting
studies, teaching schedules and research; and regulations placing
security restrictions on subjects that can be studied or researched
"create confusion."
Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Visa Services Janice Jacobs
acknowledged the new procedures have created problems, and told the
committee that the systems were put in place more rapidly than would
normally be the case because of security concerns in the aftermath of
the September 11 attacks.
"The infrastructure was not there to handle this," Jacobs said. She
outlined a number of steps taken by the Bureau of Consular Affairs to
address the problems and delays. More personnel have been devoted to
visa processing to perform the analysis of applications and the
accompanying clerical work. The bureau is also working on the
technological side of the problem, Jacobs said, making improvements in
tracking cases and in the systems used for sharing data amongst the
consular officers and educational institutions.
Jacobs said the bureau has made progress. "We're doing everything we
can to prevent this from being a permanent situation."
The Science Committee will likely maintain scrutiny on the visa issue
as government agencies work to improve the system. Chairman Boehlert
said that the March 26 hearing was one in a series that the panel will
hold on the matter.
Broader issues about science education are also coming into focus for
the committee as the details of the current problems are explored.
Foreign students are recipients of a significant percentage of
advanced degrees in science and technology conferred by U.S.
institutions -- 35 percent. Some lawmakers are disturbed to learn
that, and question whether non-Americans are displacing American
students in U.S. college classrooms. Other science committee members
said the problem really lies with elementary and secondary education
in the United States and its failure to inspire youngsters to pursue
advanced degrees in scientific and technological fields.
(The Washington File is a product of the Office of International
Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site:

Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list