Ken likes diversity. It’s part of the reason he chose to study in the United States. However, his studies are being affected by the U.S. government.
Ken, a Japanese PSU student who asked that his last name not be used, is being monitored and regulated. He is also facing the possibility of an even bleaker future now that a proposed advisory board, part of legislation currently in Congress, would put international students under extra scrutiny.
One female international student, who did not want her name or even the country she came from revealed, said, “Ever since Sept. 11, it’s been one after the other,” referring to new regulations regarding international students in the United States.
She feels there were already a lot of regulations on international students, and now there are even more.
“It’s been crazy for us,” she said. “It’s been a lot of pressure, a lot of uncertainty and a lot of violating.”
Colleen O’Connor, a Canadian student, hasn’t experienced any trouble herself, but wonders how it is for other students. “Obviously,” she said, “there’s a security issue.”
Ken agreed that international students are already under too much pressure, having to pay vastly inflated tuition rates while not being allowed to work under their student visa, in addition to all of the added security students must face under the INS and the new Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS).
“U.S. citizens don’t deal with the INS,” Ken added. “They don’t have that distrust.”
Additionally, when returning to the United States after being back in Japan, he has to get photographed, fingerprinted and interviewed by a government agent.
“I feel kind of uncomfortable because I don’ t know how much they can ask me,” he said. “I have to read their mind sometimes. I have to answer the question right to get back.”
Ken’s not alone in his feelings, either. The female international student said, “It makes you feel scared. You feel like you did something.” She is angry with the way international students, in general, have been treated since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
“Just because the Sept. 11 terrorists were students,” she said, “(people) think all international students could be a threat.”
She added, “You have rapists and killers in the U.S., but it doesn’t mean everyone from that city is a rapist or a killer.”
However, not all international students view the security as a negative thing. Heshan Jayasuriya said, “Security is a good thing, definitely.”
Jayasuriya is from Sri Lanka where, he pointed out, for the last 20 years, his government has put countless hours and funds into combating a resistance terrorist group. People from that group, he said, are going to the U.S., Canada and Switzerland, becoming refugees and getting jobs. They then send the money they earn back to the terrorist organization in Sri Lanka. Because of this, he respects any government’s need and desire to enforce certain security regulations.
Jayasuriya admitted getting his student visa was “a cumbersome thing,” but thinks the INS and SEVIS are good things, at least “to a certain extent.”
Ian West is an English academic here for six months conducting research for the American Heart Association. He got his visa through the U.S. Embassy in London, which is surrounded, he said, by concrete blocks. Half of the street, West added, is blocked off by the blocks.
“You’d need a tank to get in there,” he quipped, noting there is a great amount of paranoia within the British U.S. Embassy.
“It is so different from five years ago and we all lived in a civilized world.”
Even coming from England, a country on good terms with the United States, West experienced frustrations coming through immigration. Apparently, he said, you must have a U.S. address where you will be staying in order to pass through immigration. When he was stopped in Hawaii getting off of an airplane from Australia, he did not have an address. He was waiting until he could get to a phone book and call a hotel. In order to get into the country, he had to make up an address.
Regarding the added security for international students and the proposed advisory board, West commented that since the Sept. 11 attacks, there has been “an erosion of trust and academic freedom.”
He feels an advisory board for international studies programs could be a good thing, but questions why it must be overseen by the U.S. government.
“Couldn’t some other body oversee these things?” he asked. “Then it’s not in the hands of Big Brother.” He thinks people would be less worried about the board if it were under academic control, not government control.
Jonathan Hayes, a student from France, worries that under government control, teachers would be forced to present certain views of America.
“In Europe, we’ve had that kind of censorship before,” he said. “There are ways to get around it.”
Paul Mosler, a German student, worries about academic censorship, too. He believes that government oversight of international studies programs is a “conflict of interest.”
The female international student thinks the board could be a good thing as well, but only if someone from the international student community could serve on the board and present their perspective. It would make a difference if they were represented on the board, or else it will be nothing but “people who don’t understand what we go through” with visas, fees, security procedures, etc.
Even without the advisory board, the students must still work hard to cope with SEVIS, the INS and other related security procedures.
Ken combats these issues by trying to be “invisible, as much as possible.” But Ken stays in the United States for a variety of reasons, including the diversity he finds here, whereas in Japan, “it would be the same homogenous people.”