Foreign students are a valuable asset to the University of Minnesota. They form a significant core of the university's research departments and help the university acquire valuable research dollars. However, due to increased government bureaucracy, foreign-student presence at the university might significantly decrease this fall. Already facing a destabilizing budget crisis, such a trend will degrade the university's quality even more.
Reacting to the events of Sept. 11, 2001, the U.S. government has increased screening measures for foreign students attempting to enter the country. These measures include requiring U.S. consulates to conduct interviews with foreign students and entering all incoming foreign students into a tracking system before visas are issued. However, because U.S. consulates around the world are understaffed, it can take months for a student to be granted a screening interview. The federal Student and Exchange Visitor Information System -- the aforementioned tracking system -- is replete with bugs and clogs. On average it now takes four to six months to issue student visas.
The effects of increased screening measures on foreign student application numbers can already be felt at the university. Foreign-student applications for graduate study are down 24 percent from last year. Given that more than one-third of university graduate science students are foreign, the vitality of university science programs could be in jeopardy if foreign applications continue to decrease.
Of more immediate concern, however, is whether already accepted foreign students will arrive on campus on time this fall. Enrollment delays are costly for the university as well as foreign students. Research can be delayed and grants can be withdrawn. Some departments have admitted to occasionally selecting the foreign applicants that are most likely to arrive on campus by fall semester; they are not necessarily the best students.
Federal government officials must work feverishly to correct the bureaucratic problems that are keeping eager and qualified students from reaching U.S. universities. The vitality of this university, the U.S. higher education system and the world's scientific and technological endeavors depend on a streamlined student visa-issuing process.
-- The Minnesota Daily
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