The University can boast of its remarkable international
diversity, with more than 5,000 international students and scholars
from 129 countries. However, the tragedy of Sept. 11 has created
tangible and intangible impacts on international education. While
the number of international students enrolled at the University has
remained fairly stable (4,602 for Fall 2002 and 4,584 for Fall
2003), the intangible effects are worth mentioning.

In response to Sept. 11, the federal government created the new
SEVIS, Student and Exchange Visitor Information System database,
mandating all universities and colleges to register their
international students and scholars in this system. This task has
proven to be time-consuming and complex for all universities. As a
result, the International Center staff at the University, like
staff elsewhere, have had to exercise creativity and imagination to
avoid decreasing other services to students, visiting scholars and
faculty. Although we have received supplemental funding during the
SEVIS implementation, the demands of implementing these new
regulations have required a great deal of staff energy and
attention.

Another result of Sept. 11 has been the additional security at
the borders, which has created concerns for many international
students. Students arriving from certain countries, mostly Muslim
countries, must complete special registration processes. These
processes often require them to visit U.S. Citizenship and
Immigration Services (formerly INS) offices far from their
campuses, and to fly out of specified airports when leaving the
United States. Students arriving from all countries have
experienced the new USVISIT system, a security procedure that
requires students to be fingerprinted and photographed upon their
arrival, since January 2004. The burdens associated with these
processes likely have contributed to the 25 percent decrease in the
number of international students choosing to study in the United
States overall. Here at the University, we have seen a significant
decrease in applications from international students for Fall 2004
admission.

It is often difficult for students, scholars, researchers and
professors to obtain U.S. visas in a timely manner. Nearly all visa
applicants must appear for a personal interview at a U.S. consulate
or embassy, and even if an interview can be scheduled promptly, the
applicant may find him or herself subjected to complex and
time-consuming security clearances, depending on the
applicant’s gender, age, country of origin and religion;
whether or not he or she has the bad luck of sharing the same or
similar name with an individual listed as “suspect” in
a government database; and whether or not his or her field of
study/research appears on the Technology Alert List which covers a
broad range of medical and scientific areas.

Once here, people frequently express worries about traveling
outside of and returning to the United States.

On a more positive note, I believe that U.S. students have
become more interested in the politics and cultures of the
international students here on American campuses. The major impact
of Sept. 11 on American students was to increase their interest in
learning about the rest of the world through studying and working
abroad. Nationally, the number of Americans studying abroad rose
4.4 percent in the year following Sept. 11, from 154,168 (academic
year 2000-2001) to 160,920 (academic year 2001-2002, the latest
available data). That trend holds true at the University as well,
where 943 and 985 students studied abroad in those years,
respectively. An additional 400 University students worked abroad
each year, with the University’s Peace Corps applications,
for example, increasing by 50 percent in the year following Sept.
11.

A primary goal of international education is to broaden the
understanding of and interest in the world around us. Perhaps Sept.
11 has opened the eyes of students inside and outside the United
States, and the experiences of international students here in the
U.S. will aid in developing a greater understanding of the world
beyond our borders, and in the long run, further the promotion and
realization of world peace.

Our community can serve as a living example of why we should
remain engaged in the global community and why we should keep the
door open to internationalization. We are in a unique position to
play a significant and active role in making sure that, despite the
world issues, people will see in us the opportunity behind the
tragedy.

 

Altamirano is the director of the University’s
International Center.

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