GW International Services officials said there are very lax requirements for tracking international students once they enroll in the University and have a student visa. Last week’s arrest of man believed to be a former GW student, Sultan R. Al-Zaabi, is prompting questions about tracking procedures at Immigration and Naturalization Services.
With a new system starting in 2003, the University is preparing to become more stringent in monitoring international students. One of the Sept. 11 hijackers also came to the United States on a student visa that he never used.
The current system does not require GW to regulate students if they have already been issued a student visa and are already in the country, said Judith Green, director of International Services.
Green said although it is not easy to obtain a student visa, once an immigrant is in the country, the University is not required to keep the INS updated on the student’s standing.
In order to get student visas from the U.S. embassy in their respective countries, immigrants need an I-20 form issued by GW. The form confirms the student’s acceptance, their intention to leave the United States after their education and the finances to attend the school, according to INS guidelines.
There is also an English proficiency test, which is required for students not enrolling in an English as a Foreign Language class.
Green said most students apply for F-1 visas. INS guidelines state that in order to maintain the visa, students must have a valid passport, register for a courses and stay in “good-standing.”
If a student wants to transfer schools, the University must submit paper work to INS, and GW must confirm that the student has left the school.
Green said the former GW student who was arrested near the Pentagon could have started at another school and dropped out without the INS knowing.
“There is no requirement for the University to report to the INS if a student drops out,” Green said.
She said the only thing the INS can view on student records is credit hours completed. Local universities are not responsible for calling the INS to update records.
In 2003, the University will be required to update INS periodically on a student’s standing electronically. Such a system will allow INS to keep better track of students, Green said. New laws also allow universities to discuss a student’s academic standing.
Green added that the two student visas and tourist visa the arrested person carried could be legitimate.
She said certain visas are only valid for a year, and the student may have left the country, which would require a new visa.
This article appeared in the February 19, 2002 issue of the Hatchet.