INS tightens tracking of international students

by Christy Smith

Immigration and Naturalization Services officials from the Omaha, Neb. office have asked universities and colleges in Iowa and Nebraska to submit information about current international students with the hope of improving a criticized student visa program.

Before Sept. 11, 2001 United States officials knew that the current tracking of foreigners was inadequate.

“The system that is used today only identifies a person coming into our country and how long they will be here,” said Jerry Heinauer, district director of the INS office in Omaha that directs activity in Nebraska and Iowa. “There is no current mechanism that tracks the person’s expiration, and there is no way of knowing if the person has left the country. This of course leads to problems.”

Heinauer said the terrorist attacks and the continuing fear of terrorism in the United States has led to a heightened concern over international students.

“Before that tragic event we knew and always understood that the current tracking system was not a good one. We didn’t have the resources to work through the problem before Sept. 11,” he said.

At the moment, the INS, President Bush and the Department of Justice are brainstorming ideas for a new system that would track all foreigners in the country. According to Heinauer nothing is concrete, but the new tracking system is likely to be in place by the end of the summer.

The INS has been able to see a picture of the current tracking system as they have been contacting international students in colleges and universities throughout the country.

“We now have a sense of the extent of the problem, which is exactly how many persons have received an I-20 and are following it exactly,” said Heinauer. “We basically have gotten to see the school status of each foreign student.”

An I-20 is a certificate of eligibility to attend school in the United States. According to Heinauer, every international student must sign the certificate and the school he or she attends must sign it as well. This passes the responsibility of the student into the hands of the school.

According to John Bolen, Simpson College registrar, every international student on campus has completed the I-20 and the INS has made one request regarding foreign students on Simpson’s campus.

“One request of private records was made in which the INS wanted the names of international students, what country they represented and their majors.”

INS officials have said Simpson College’s foreign students are in compliance with immigration requirements and are not from certain countries the agency had specified concern over.

No further information has been requested about Simpson’s 31 international students, according to Bolen.

The INS is also looking for students who transfer from school to school, Bolen said.

“Thankfully we don’t have any students who transfer. The students here stay and graduate,” Bolen said.