The Johns Hopkins Gazette: December 3, 2001
December 3, 2001
VOL. 31, NO. 13


Bracing for Immigration Changes

By Greg Rienzi
The Gazette
Johns Hopkins Gazette Online Edition

As officials in the nation's capitol weigh stricter immigration policies and practices in response to the events of Sept. 11, interested parties in higher education anxiously await the fallout. The university and some of its peer institutions, not idly sitting by, are meanwhile marshaling a lobbying effort to ensure that a disproportionate burden is not placed on international students and scholars.

Currently before Congress are several bills that would tighten restrictions on student visas and implement measures to track more closely those who choose to study and/or teach in the United States. The chief concern among university officials is that such measures would add unnecessary layers of bureaucracy and, at least indirectly, send the message that visitors from other countries are not welcome.

While student visas account for only 2 percent of the more than 30 million temporary visas issued annually, much attention has been focused on higher education as one of the terrorists involved in the Sept. 11 attacks was allowed to enter the country on a student visa and did not report to school.

More than 1,680 international students are currently enrolled at the eight Johns Hopkins academic divisions, in addition to the university's nearly 2,000 foreign faculty and staff. Steven Knapp, provost and senior vice president for academic affairs, says the matter of stricter immigration policies is of great concern for an "international university" such as Johns Hopkins.

"Obviously we recognize the vital importance of protecting national security. But if the proposed legislation prevented or discouraged innocent international students, scholars and scientists from coming to the United States, it could have a serious effect on, among other things, our ability to conduct the kind of state-of-the-art research for which we are especially renowned," Knapp says. "Our research and teaching are greatly enriched by the presence of faculty and students from around the world."

Since Sept. 11, immigration has been the dominant issue at the university's Office of Federal Relations, according to Maggie McIntosh, associate for federal relations. A major focus of her office is a piece of legislation sponsored by Sen. Diane Feinstein, D-Calif., and Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., that calls for thorough background checks on all visa applicants and for new $100 visa application fees and bars U.S. entry of students from terrorist-sponsoring countries. The bill also creates various administrative tasks for educational institutions, requiring them to provide the State Department and the Immigration and Naturalization Service with detailed and timely information on its foreign students and faculty.

McIntosh says the university is "very concerned" about the implications of this bill for universities and colleges.

"For one, who is a terrorist-sponsoring country? Does that mean we can no longer educate somebody from Iraq, Iran or North Korea?" McIntosh says. "If the Feinstein-Kyl bill were to pass, current students and faculty would have to go through new hoops and procedures to actually finish their education or be in the country to teach. There will also be tremendous administrative and regulatory responsibilities to bear that we never had to handle before. I fear all of this will lead, in the future, to a slowing of and a deterrent to students who want to study in this country."

McIntosh says that Hopkins, through the Association of American Universities, is among a group of research universities--including Stanford, Yale, MIT and others--that has taken the lead in apprising lawmakers of the negative impact that such a bill would have on higher education and the country.

Realizing that some change is inevitable, Hopkins and the AAU are leaning in favor of legislation introduced by Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., and Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan. It, too, calls for foreign-student monitoring but offers a more balanced approach to immigration security matters and does not impact the university or other research institutions nearly as much as the Feinstein-Kyl bill, McIntosh says.

Currently, there is ongoing discussion in Washington about crafting a compromise bill based on the Kennedy-Brownback and Feinstein-Kyl versions.

On the issue of tracking, Nicholas Arrindell, director of the Office of International Student and Scholar Services, says the university is ready and willing to handle stricter guidelines. In response to the Illegal Immigration Act of 1996, Hopkins has begun to implement a universitywide international student/faculty monitoring system that allows the institution to track individuals from initial entry straight through to permanent residency. The system will be launched in spring 2002, a full year before the INS deadline.

However, Arrindell says that students and scholars are already subject to more rigorous application and reporting requirements than holders of other visa classifications and that requiring much more of universities seems like a "knee-jerk reaction."

"I don't know if it's the student that the government should be overly concerned about. Even looking at this incident, the majority of the terrorists came over on tourist visas; only one person came in on a student visa," Arrindell says. "Looking at how the media has picked this piece up, they are really targeting student entry, and I think that is the inappropriate place to go. We gave 19 others permission to come in as tourists and have multiple entries, and we had no way of knowing where they had been or what they were doing."

Across Hopkins institutions, many are in a wait-and-see mode in terms of how any change in visa reviews or new immigration regulations will impact international student enrollment.

The mood at the Peabody Institute's Office of Admissions, according to its director, David Lane, is uneasy.

"Everyone here is on pins and needles wondering what will happen," Lane says. "There is a general level of concern throughout the admissions community about all of this immigration talk."

Emily Frank, associate dean for student affairs at Peabody, says the concern is that too much bureaucracy and excessive delays in visa processing will deter people from coming to Peabody and will give a recruiting edge to competitor schools in Canada and Australia, where immigration laws are less stringent. Frank says that Peabody, with an enrollment of 635, cannot afford any hiccup in its international student numbers.

"Thirty-three percent of our students are foreign nationals. That is a huge percentage for a small institution," Frank says. "Every one body makes a big difference for us."

A similar sentiment is shared by officials at the Nitze School of Advanced International Studies. Of the 450 students enrolled at SAIS, nearly 40 percent are foreign nationals.

Bonnie Wilson, associate dean for student affairs at SAIS, says the school is bracing itself for greater visa restrictions.

"We don't know exactly how all of this all will play out, but we do know that it probably will be more difficult, or at least it will be more of a hassle, for students to get visas," Wilson says. "I would hate to see the government overdo it, to really restrict in any severe way honest students who want to study in the U.S. International student exchange is a wonderful, broadening experience."

Wilson, however, is optimistic that students will come regardless of what immigration red tape is in place, reflecting the sentiment of other Hopkins officials.

"If a foreign student really wants to study in the U.S., the fact that he or she has to wait a few months or pay an extra $100, given the price of admission, I don't think will deter them," Wilson says.

Murray Welsh-Lofts, director of JHMI's Office of International Student, Faculty and Staff Services, says the two major concerns for the international population on the East Baltimore campus are travel limitations and pending legislation that would augment tracking and restrict the entry of certain internationals to the United States.

Of immediate impact, Welsh-Lofts says, is the State Department's recent institution of a 20-day waiting period for nonimmigrant visas for men ages 16 to 45 who are nationals of 25 predominantly Arab and Muslim countries. This restriction was followed by a moratorium on issuing entry and re-entry visas to out-of-country visa applicants in Canada and Mexico. Previously, international visitors were able to travel to those two countries in order to obtain nonimmigrant visas, but now this benefit has been put on hold.

Welsh-Lofts says that with the current restrictions, a faculty member from Pakistan or Saudi Arabia, for example, who needs to go to a conference in Austria has to endure a 20-day security check in that country before being allowed to re-enter the United States.

"So either they stay there for a month, or they do not go," she says. "You see the problem."

McIntosh says it's unlikely that any of the pending immigration legislation will become law anytime soon. And for colleges and universities, she says, the more time that goes by, the better.

"I think all this legislation will get rolled over to next spring, and hopefully, like many of these issues, the further away from Sept. 11 we go, the less draconian some of the proposals are," she says, "granted nothing else significant happens in the meantime."