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U.S. Adopts New Internet System on Student Visas
May 10 2002 5:00PM
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Facing criticism over how easily some of the Sept. 11 hijackers entered and moved about the United States, Attorney General John Ashcroft said on Friday a new Internet-based system will start in July to better track the 1 million foreign students in this nation.
Colleges, universities and trade schools will have to collect and report information to the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) under the system, initially voluntary but later mandatory, he told a news conference.
"For too long our student visa system has been a slow, antiquated, paper-driven reporting system incapable of ensuring that those who enter the United States as students are in fact attending our educational institutions," Ashcroft said.
The system will make the student information available centrally to the INS in a database and will allow the schools to transmit it electronically via the Internet, he said.
The system has been under development by the INS for years under a law adopted by Congress in the mid-1990s. The data that must be reported includes a student's failure to enroll and whether the student dropped out or was expelled.
Ashcroft said schools may voluntarily participate on July 1, though under the proposed rule, they must participate by Jan. 30 of next year.
The INS has come under increased scrutiny in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. All 19 suspected hijackers who carried out the attacks entered the country legally, although three had overstayed their visas.
The INS was embarrassed in March, exactly six months after the attacks, when a Florida flight school received notification from the INS that student visas had been approved for two suspected hijackers, Mohamed Atta and Marwan Al-Shehhi.
One of the hijackers, Hani Hanjour, used a student visa to enter the United States, saying he wanted to study English, but he never showed up at the school.
Ashcroft made the announcement before the release, expected later this month, of a critical report by the Justice Department's inspector general.
"Schools will be accountable for confirming the status of student visa holders. The Immigration and Naturalization Service will be accountable for enforcing violations of that status," he said.
"Rapid access to current, complete information on foreign students will improve dramatically the INS's capability to enforce immigration laws and keep track of this group of noncitizens in the United States," he said.
Ashcroft said the new system will reduce the time lag on when the INS receives information. He said it was developed "in consultation" with representatives of U.S. colleges and universities.
Terry Hartle, senior vice president of the American Council on Education, a trade association representing 1,800 colleges and universities, said: "The bottom line here is this is what INS should be doing and we're fully supportive."
He called it a "huge undertaking" under a very ambitious timetable, saying the system linking up as many as 70,000 schools "dwarfs anything INS has ever done before."
" i used to be schizophrenic, but now we're doing fine"