Bill would ease visa process

The U.S. Senate is considering legislation that could benefit GW’s international students by decreasing security restrictions on travel.

The International Student and Scholar Access Act of 2004 would allow international students to obtain a visa for the duration of their study in the United States, instead of requiring them to renew their clearance annually. The proposed law would also require timely deadlines for security checks on student visas, which face no existing time guidelines for processing.

University officials said foreigners studying at GW often think twice about visiting home because of regulations that require students to acquire a new security check and visa stamp whenever they leave the country.

“Allowing a security check to be valid for the length of the program would ease the strain and homesickness internationals feel,” said Tara Griffin, director of GW’s International Services Office, in an e-mail last week.

Despite bureaucratic pressures on students from abroad who take classes in Foggy Bottom, Griffin’s office reported that the University accepted 30 more foreign freshmen than it did last year. According to GW’s Office of Institutional Research, 448 foreign undergraduate students attended GW during the last academic year.

“These numbers are a reflection that international students feel comfortable coming to an institution that values having them as part of the student body in a very international city,” said Touran Waters, associate director of Undergraduate Admissions.

Although the number of foreign undergraduates at GW has increased, Kristen Williams, director of Graduate Student Enrollment, said the number of foreign students has dropped slightly from last year’s 1,406 students.

“It has been very frustrating,” Williams said. “The processes make it so difficult for students to study here, and sometimes they view these long processes as a sign of us being unwelcoming.”

According to the Council of Graduate Schools, a higher education research organization, the makeup of GW’s graduate programs is following a nationwide trend. A recent report by the council found that the number of graduate foreign student applicants fell by 28 percent from 2003 to 2004. In addition, the number of those applicants granted admission dropped by 18 percent during the same period.

The study attributed the decline to U.S. foreign policy conflicts and a prolonged security process since the terrorist attacks of September 11.

Griffin said she is optimistic about the opportunities for foreign students at GW and in the U.S., despite the study’s grim conclusions.

“While the U.S.’s current foreign policy may not be something all international students agree with, the thousands of international students currently studying in the U.S. are proof that foreign policy does not keep international students from pursuing their academic goals,” Griffin said.

She added that GW will implement an earlier deadline for international graduate applications for the 2005-06 school year. The earlier deadline will allow the University to review prospective students in time for them to obtain a visa, Griffin said.

Some foreign students from troubled regions said that as a result of stricter security policies, they have seen a decline in the University’s international population.

“I used to have many foreign student friends in the U.S., but not anymore, especially after the new immigration laws and security screenings for people from the Middle East,” said Saif Alsaifi, a graduate student from the United Arab Emirates. “Our government has stopped sending more students to the U.S., and parents began sending their kids to Europe instead.”

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