Int'l students feeling effects of federal shutdown

By Bryan Hance
Arizona Daily Wildcat
January 11, 1996

The recent government shutdown has left some international students unable to renew or obtain visas required to attend school in the United States.

Many students who have traveled over the holidays will be entering on expired visas, said Kirk Simmons, director of the Center for International Students and Scholars. For many of them, the visas stamped in their passports have expired during the time the y have been in the country, he said.

"Furthermore we've had students who were enrolling for the first time ... who received their documents late or simply did not apply for their entry visas until very late," Simmons said. "Of course, they were not able to utilize the U.S. Embassy or Consula te because they were closed."

Simmons said there are 2,300 continuing students and 200 to 250 new students in the international program, and estimated that 30 to 40 students will face problems upon reentry.

Kathy Deitering, immigration advisor, said the center has been advising foreign students who call for help to stay in their country until they receive their paperwork.

"The ones that didn't call are the ones having problems," she said.

The Department of State's Visa Office was unavailable for comment, but the office recording contains the message, "Due to a lack of appropriations, information officers will not, repeat, not be available to answer your questions about U.S. visas. Visa ser vices at most U.S. embassies and consulates abroad will be extremely limited until the government resumes normal operations."

Immigration officials have been issuing visitors visas to allow students' entry into the United States, Simmons said. This creates a problem because changing a visa's status, from visitor to student status, for example, usually requires that the individua l return to his home country, he said.

Simmons said that while a student can attend "a class or two," it is technically illegal to pursue a full-time education on a visitor's visa. If the Immigration and Naturalization Service identifies a person on a visitor's visa who is attending school ful l-time, the student is usually deported, he said.

Simmons said he had hoped immigration officials would give students with expired visas a "deferred inspection" at their points of entry. Under deferred inspection, the students can enter the country but must report to the local INS office within a few wee ks of their arrival, he said. While the students' visas would still be expired, their immigration would be cleared with the government, he said.

However, this has not been happening, Simmons said.

"The immigration officers, particularly at the airports, are not handling them (the students) in that manner. They're having them enter as tourists, which is a significant problem," he said.

"It's irresponsible for the immigration officers at the points of entry to be issuing these tourist visas or tourist entry to these students. Deferred inspection would be the appropriate means of handling the situation."

The work backlog created by the federal government's shutdown is another problem for returning students, Simmons said.

At some consulates and embassies around the world, there is at least a two-week wait to obtain a visa under normal circumstances, he said. "That wait could be extended to a month or more."

Simmons said his advice to new international students who do not possess visas is to delay their enrollment for one semester. For returning students with visas that have expired, he recommends attempting deferred inspection upon entry, although he knows o f only two cases in which deferred inspection has been granted.

"Keep in mind the worst case scenario: that you'll be put right back on the plane and be on your way home," he said. "It's a risk."