NIU sees little visa change

By Melissa Blake

The recent change in U.S. student visa policies will not significantly impact NIU’s international students, said Thecla Cooler, director of the International Student and Faculty Office.

The specifics of the change are “very complicated,” Cooler said, but in short, students who were subjected to security background checks will not undergo them annually.

“Applicants for visas from any country currently designated as a state sponsor of terrorism trigger a mandatory background check under [Visa] Mantis,” Cooler said. The U.S. Congress formed the Visa Mantis program in 1998 after concerns arose about the transfer of goods, technology and sensitive information, Cooler said.

In 2002, 144,000, or about 2.3 percent of the 6.2 million successful immigrant and non-immigrant visa requests were subject to some kind of security clearance, she said.

Although NIU may have students in that category, it is not something Cooler said she is concerned about. NIU is more concerned about whether students are approved rather than the details.

The changes in policy are specific to foreign students wanting to study science or other technical fields in the United States, according to The Associated Press.

“The changes are intended to speed up the process of approving security clearances and allowing those clearances to remain in effect longer,” according to AP reports.

A visa is a permission to “knock on the door,” Cooler said. The final decision is made by the Immigration Officer at the port of entry, she said.

Student visas are good for the duration of a student’s program of study as long as the visa rules and regulations are followed, Cooler said.

About 900 students are studying at NIU on student visas, Cooler said.

“We have had some loss [in the number of students],” Cooler said. Fewer students are coming to the United States because other countries are doing an excellent job of providing educational opportunities, she said.

“[NIU has an] overall reputation as an excellent value for higher education,” she said.

April Gonzalez, a graduate student in instructional technology, is here on a student visa and works in the International Training Office. A native of the Philippines, Gonzalez has been studying at NIU for about a year and a half but has been in the United States since Jan. 2001.

Before 9/11, it was relatively easy to apply for a visa in the Philippines, she said.

“I remember just submitting my application to the U.S. embassy without having to do an interview,” she said. “There was no personal appearance requirement, and in one week’s time, I had my visa.”

Last summer, Gonzalez went home to renew her student visa, and the process was completely different. She had to go through an interview process and appear before a consular office, who asked her questions and looked thoroughly into her file.

Gonzalez said the government should always conduct thorough background checks. These checks not only protect U.S. citizens but also foreign individuals who come to the country.

“The vulnerability of America calls for adequate background checks of foreign individuals – measures that also serve to protect those who legally came to this country to visit, work or study,” she said.