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Stanford Report, September 11, 2002

In welcoming international students to the United States, 'there's been an atmospheric change,' Pearson says

During the last year, the Bechtel International Center has had to deal with the U.S. government's increasingly conservative stance toward international students. "There's been an atmospheric change in welcoming students to the U.S., and there's uncertainty regarding visa regulations," says John Pearson, the center's director. One change already affecting students is that the Social Security Administration now requires a background check by the Immigration and Naturalization Service before issuing a Social Security number to non-immigrant foreign students, who need it to open a bank account and secure a driver's license.

During the summer, Stanford has seen an increase in visa denials by the State Department for new students as well as an enhanced procedure for background checks for students from countries such as Iran, Pakistan and Malaysia. These checks, initiated at U.S. consulates overseas, can take up to three months to complete. "Now students are wondering if they can get here on time," he says. "They feel very helpless. In the past, we've been able to solve a lot of stuff, but now this involves national security issues. We just have to counsel patience and work with departments and university offices to assist those students who may have to defer."

Finally, the university is working to comply with a Jan. 30, 2003, federal deadline to implement a new nationwide computerized system for tracking international students and professors. The INS will use the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System, or Sevis, to keep tabs on who does what where and when. The university plans to transfer information to Sevis from an existing record-keeping system that covers its 3,500 international students. However, the system does not track an additional 1,500 people, most of whom are visiting scholars that the government requires to be listed. "We need a better system to meet federal regulations and provide better information to departments," Pearson says. "It's going to be an interesting year."

--Lisa Trei

John Pearson

John Pearson