Senator Feinstein Urges Major Changes
in U.S. Student Visa Program

September 27, 2001

Washington, DC - Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) this week announced that she will soon introduce legislation to reform the U.S. student visa program, including full funding for the implementation of a foreign student electronic tracking system.

Senator Feinstein believes reforms to the system are necessary after learning that a number of the suspected hijackers in the September 11th attack are now under investigation by authorities for enrolling in U.S. schools but never attending. Additionally, one of the terrorists in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing was here in the United States on an expired student visa.

"Today, there is little scrutiny given to those who claim to be foreign students seeking to study in the United States," Senator Feinstein said. "In fact, the foreign student visa program is one of the most unregulated and exploited visa categories."

"I believe that we need a temporary 6-month moratorium on the student visa program to give the INS time to remedy the many problems in the system," said Feinstein. "This may be controversial, but there has to be recognition that this is an unprecedented time in the country and our national security depends on our system functioning to ensure that terrorists do not take advantage of the vulnerabilities in the student visa program."

Many officials at educational institutions have said there are serious monitoring gaps in the student visa system and describe a process in which people enter the country with a student visa, yet fail to enroll in school -- which is a violation of federal immigration law. As the system stands now, the INS is unaware of these types of warning signs until it is too late to track down the visa violators.

"Congress enacted a law in 1996 to require INS to collect important data on foreign students following the first World Trade Center bombing when it was found that one of the terrorists was here on an expired student visa," said Feinstein. But to date, this critical system has not been put into place. Put simply, I do not believe the INS has moved vigorously enough to implement that system. And while INS has a responsibility in this regard, I believe that schools also have a responsibility within this system."

The legislation from Senator Feinstein will include the following provisions to restore integrity to the foreign student visa process:

Six-month Moratorium on Foreign Student Visas

Full Funding Authorization for the INS Foreign Student Electronic Tracking System

New INS Admission Procedures

New Requirements for Schools Enrolling Foreign Students

Enhancing INS Data Collection and Integration

Enhancing Security at the U.S. Ports of Entry


One of the suicide pilots of American Airlines Flight 77 which crashed into the Pentagon, Hani Hanjour, had enrolled at an Oakland, California college in November 2000 for an English language course -- but never showed up. Investigators are also examining whether Hanjour and Khalid al-Midhar and Nawaq Alhamzi, also believed to be involved in the hijacking of Flight 77, attended community college in San Diego.

Officials estimate that 245,000 foreign students have entered the U.S. this year to pursue a course of study. Between 1999 and 2000, the State Department issued 3,370 visas to students from nations on the United States' terrorism watch list.

In 1996, Congress approved a federal law to require the INS to electronically collect data on all international students by 2003, but to date, this system has not yet been set up. Without this data, the INS does not have the capacity to share vital information to the State Department, which issue visas, and federal law enforcement agencies, when warranted.

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