INS keeping students away

Tamara Afzoud, Channels Contributor, Tamara Afzoud, Channels Contributor, and Tamara Afzoud, Channels Contributor

City College is facing a possible 30 percent decrease i n international students compared to last year, because foreign students find life cheaper, easier and friendlier in Canada and England than in the United States.

“Students have a certain amount of money and time,” said Derrick Banks, director of the International Student Support Program. “Other locations are winning the battle because the U.S. administration is more difficult than in other countries.”

The possible financial loss caused by this trend on top of the recent budget cuts would land the college in a less than desirable situation. The question of why foreign students chose other countries instead of the past favorite, the United States, as their study location has become important.

With the fee increases and homeland security restrictions, the U.S. has become more difficult than ever for foreign students to come to.

“Any country with a large Muslim population, Hispanics and Columbians are singled out during the visa application process and at the airport,” Banks said. “At the port of entry, students are pulled aside, asked questions and fingerprinted.”

Students can be detained, without the right to a lawyer, until officials determine they are safe to enter the country. There is no limit to how long that can take.

“You leave a place where you have rights and come to a place where you have none,” Banks said. “I think the overall impression is that students of certain origin are not as welcome as in the past.”

Students who choose the United States must go to the American embassy for a mandatory interview to obtain their visa. This rule used to apply only to people from certain countries of origin, but since Aug. 1 this year, everybody is required to go through these interviews.

“The American embassies aren’t in everybody’s backyard,” Banks said. “This makes it difficult for many students.”

The visa procedures take so long the students must make their appointments at least three to six months in advance. Even if students go to their interviews, they are not guaranteed a visa.

According to new INS regulations, all students must also “sign in” with the school before a certain date or they will lose their legal status.

“We knew there were lengthy delays in some countries,” Banks said. “Many students missed the deadline.”

The process for obtaining a visa is easier and cheaper anywhere but in the United States, and “that is enough to change the tide” when it comes to choosing where to go, Banks said.

“There was no way for us to know until orientation how many of the accepted students would actually come and where they were coming from,” Banks said. “It was impossible to know how many of the 150 accepted students had already received their visas before Aug. 1 and how many were still in line to be interviewed.”

“If we would have dropped the amount of students we estimated would not arrive, the college’s estimated loss would have been up to half a million dollars,” said Banks. “This is money that is used to support the ISSP and other school programs.”

To hinder the oncoming drop from damaging his program, Banks chose to be proactive and turned to local, private language schools to get help recruiting students. One of those schools is Aspect who is currently leasing buildings on campus.

By reaching out to the language schools, City College managed to keep the decrease to a minimum, and is now one of the few colleges where the number of international students did not drop as much as expected for the fall semester.

“Money and scholars are joint with other countries,” Banks said. “Because people from around the world come to the United States, we have a collection of the best of the best. We

wouldn’t have that if people from other places felt unwelcome and didn’t come here.”

However, it is difficult at the moment because the restrictions in question result from a “development of fear,” Banks said.

“Because people are scared of terrorist threats, everyone agrees on one thing,” Banks said. “Until we know who ‘they’ are we should be cautious of who we let into the country. Until people feel safe, they won’t push for change in these new restrictions regardless of the outcome.”

The question is: When will we feel safe again?