Changes in INS and Federal Policies following the Attacks on the World Trade Center

One of the most asked questions by our clients, regardless of their country of origin, is “how will the attack on the World Trade Center affect my case?” For many clients there may be no direct ascertainable affect on a client case. However the INS is applying a great deal more scrutiny to foreign students and for persons from countries identified as “terrorist sponsor” states thousands of people will be affected in California alone.

Recent actions of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI), as well as proposed legislation in Congress indicate a growing concern regarding individuals who have entered as students on F-1, J or other student visas.

Under the “USA PATRIOT Act” (“Uniting and Strengthening American by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act) the INS is directed to implement measures first detailed in the 1996 IRRIRA and expand this program to include educational institutions such as flight schools, language training schools and vocational schools.Tracking of Student Visas is expected to improve as the INS begins to implement a nationwide computer database by 2003.

At the administrative level the President issued a directive ordering a thorough review of student visa policies enlisting the support of the Secretary of State Colin Powell, Attorney General John Ashcroft, and the Secretaries of Education, Defense and other agencies to tighten controls for issuance of student visas.

News reports indicate the arrest of 10 students in the San Diego Area as a result of a “sweep” by the San Diego District Office of the INS, with more sweeps to follow by other INS District Offices in California and the rest of the country. The focus of concern by the INS is on students who have failed to enroll for school, dropping out of school (failing to attend classes), or remaining in the United States on expired visas.

The San Diego County sweep was conducted with the cooperation of INS some 280 colleges, universities, English-language programs and vocational schools authorized to enroll foreign students in San Diego and Imperial counties. The participating schools included the University of San Diego, University of California San Diego, San Diego State University.

A recently published copy of a letter to Department of Justice Attorneys provides guidelines for interrogation and interviews of foreign students requiring coordination with campus security prior to interview of students, questioning on the students complete educational background, licenses and areas of expertise, full questioning about academic studies and future plans.

In addition persons who work in the travel industry and in particular employees associated with airports of companies providing services to airports may be subject to background checks and reviews. These background checks were ordered by the FAA as early as September 19, 2001. The checks include airport and airline employees, plus employees of contractors who have access to aircraft, runways or other secure areas of terminals, according to federal standards.

The point is that for those persons who have let student or tourist visas expire or are in danger of doing so, the time is “now” maintain visa status through enrollment or explore other immigration options. For those persons who are eligible to naturalize and have put off doing so, the time is “now” to prepare and submit naturalization applications. For hundreds of people in California alone their jobs may depend on it.