SIUC alumna addresses post-Sept. 11 visa issues

By Gus Bode

For the first time since Sept. 11, 2001, the number of applicants and student visa issuances are increasing, which could be promising for SIUC, where the international student population has declined in recent years.

Janice Jacobs, the deputy assistant secretary of state for visa services, spoke to students and community in the Student Center Auditorium on Monday night about the steps the State Department is taking to balance border security and international education exchanges. Jacobs graduated from the University in 1968 with a bachelor’s degree in French and English.

Since the terrorist attacks, Jacobs said there had been a 30-percent drop in all categories of temporary visa applications and an 18-percent drop in student applications.

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“It’s key for American students to also get that overseas experience,” Jacobs said.

The SIUC international student population has declined steadily each year from 1,533 in 2002 to 1,318 in 2004. Administrators have blamed the drop on the tighter visa restrictions following the Sept. 11 attacks.

Mike Lawrence, director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute, which sponsored Jacobs’ lecture, said she offered a poignant perspective to the University on securing the nation’s borders without impeding international student travel.

“We’re just delighted to have you with us to help us figure out how to address this tension in a positive matter,” Lawrence told her.

Jacobs said many of the changes that have occurred concerning foreign travel are the result of laws passed after Sept. 11. These changes include keeping two fingerprints and a photo of all visa applicants, increasing the amount of data sharing between federal agencies, more security screenings and personal interviews.

The biometrics database, which uses advanced fingerprint authentication technology, makes sure the person who applied for the visa is the one entering the country.

She said these changes required more staff and better technology, which was the root of the problems when the changes were initially implemented.

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In the spring and summer of 2002, she said there were delays in visa processing by weeks, months or even a year due to lack of staffing and available technology. These delays caused some students to miss a semester or year of school.

“Things gradually started to improve,” Jacobs said, especially over past year.

Now, Jacobs said 97 percent of visa applicants get their visa the day or day after they apply.

Another addition to international student monitoring is the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System, which is a web-based system for maintaining information on international exchange visitors in the United States.

She said these changes are all an effort by her department to strike the proper balance between keeping America safe and facilitating international travel.

“We have heard the concerns from schools,” Jacobs said. “It really is a balancing act that we do.”

More than anything, Jacobs said the state wants to relay the message that the welcome mat is still out.

“It is very important for the United States to attract international visitors,” Jacobs said.

She said when the United States loses a potential international student, it has not just lost the student, but their family, an international presence and an increasing understanding of the United States.

Traveling to the United States enables the nation to overcome the negative stereotypes portrayed by foreign media and movies, Jacobs said.

There are 599,617 international students enrolled in universities nationally. SIUC is ranked 88th in the nation for the number of active international students with 1,344 students as of March 2005.

Reporter Laura Teegarden can be reached at [email protected]

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