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International students remain vital part of campus

Portland State has maintained open doors for international students. International student enrollment is at about the same levels as they were before September 2001. The number of international students increased this year: 1,016 international students attended PSU during the fall 2001 school term, up from 961 the previous year, according to figures from the Office of Institutional Research and Planning.

Likewise, PSU’s pioneering Middle East Studies Center remains an important part of the curriculum, drawing students from all over the world.

The events of Sept. 11 brought national interest to the issue of international students studying in the United States. Rumors that Hani Hanjour, one of the hijackers involved in the September attacks, had obtained entrance to the United States by use of a student visa raised concerns that international studies programs could be another casualty of the war on terrorism.

Major news media including “20/20” and the Washington Post ran stories about the perceived threat that the current process for obtaining international student visas posed to national security.

Last November, U.S. Sen. Diane Feinstein introduced legislation that would mandate the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) to conduct background checks on foreign nationals seeking student visas. In addition the bill would require educational institutions to immediately inform the INS when a foreign student violated the terms of their visa by not showing up for class. The legislation would also bar students from terrorist supporting states from obtaining visas without special permission from the secretary of state.

Feinstein’s proposed legislation has since become part of The Enhanced Border Security and Visa Entry Reform Act of 2001. A similar bill has been proposed in the house by U.S. Rep. John Sweeney.

In addition to these new requirements, an electronic system to monitor foreign students in the United States will be up and running by 2003.

Along with this system came a proposal to attach a $95 fee to the acquisition of a student visa to help cover implementation costs. This proposal has been shelved for the time being as the INS looks into the ramifications of such a fee, most notably on students from developing countries.

While international studies seems a small interest, less than 10 percent of PSU students are international students, the effects of scaring away applicants could be far-reaching.

According to the National Association of International Educators (NAFSA), 1.5 million students study abroad each year, one third of which choose the United States as their host country.

The NAFSA also estimates that international students and their dependents annually contribute more than $12 billion to the U.S. economy and the Department of Commerce reports that international education is the United States’ fifth largest service sector export.

Secretary of State Colin Powell reiterated foreign students’ value to the United States in a Feb. 27 letter to a consortium of higher-education institutions, “As these students and scholars from other countries gain from our society and academic institutions, they also serve as resources for our campuses and our communities, helping our citizens to develop the international understanding needed to strengthen our long-term national security and enhance our economic competitiveness.”