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Opening Statement of Howard P. "Buck" McKeon
Subcommittee on 21st Century Competitiveness

Hearing on "Tracking International Students in Higher Education -- Policy Options and Implications for Students"

Good morning,

I want to welcome our witnesses here today and thank them for taking the time, especially in light of the difficult circumstances over the last few weeks, to appear before the subcommittees to help us learn more about the current system in place for international students wanting to study in the United States.

I would also like to express my sincere and personal appreciation for your willingness to be flexible in the rescheduling of the hearing, which was originally scheduled to take place on October 24th.

As my friend and colleague, Representative Hoekstra, indicated, this hearing is informational in nature. In light of the events that have taken place since September 11th, it is imperative that we reevaluate the systems in place to protect the freedoms and security of our citizens

The United States has an educational system that is the best in the world. We offer opportunities that some from other nations cannot even imagine.

We bring together the best and brightest everyday and encourage lifetime learning for everyone.

Though our educational system provides many freedoms and opportunities, it also creates challenges for those responsible for screening international students seeking to enter the United States and the educational institutions involved in providing the learning experience so many seek.

According to recent data, in 1999, there were approximately 31.4 million total visas provided to individuals for entry into the United States. Of that total, approximately 570,000 were granted to international students attending colleges and universities in the U.S. Another 275,000 visas were granted to exchange visitors during that same time. It is clear as these numbers continue to increase that there must be adequate safeguards in place for the reporting and monitoring of these visa recipients.

This hearing is NOT an effort to thwart the educational goals of international students seeking to participate in and benefit from the institutions of higher learning in this country.

This hearing is simply an effort by the Subcommittee on 21st Century Competitiveness and the Subcommittee on Select Education to learn about the screening and monitoring processes that are currently in place for international students entering the United States. For example, what process must students go through to receive visas? And what coordination takes place between the various agencies and organizations involved in that process?

We are also here to seek input from the experts to determine if there are things that can be done to not only shore up and make the process more efficient, but to insure that those seeking to enter the United States for legitimate educational purposes are permitted to do so.

As alluded to, the Student Exchange Visitor Informational System (SEVIS) will, when fully operational, allow colleges and universities the ability to report information on those international students accepted for enrollment, but who do not attend or who transfer or drop out of school. The system will be internet-based and will provide government agencies, such as INS and the Department of State, with updates as to when a student in the United States on a student visa changes his enrollment status. We would like to specifically hear from the representatives here as to how the gradual implementation of this system has affected them and where they see their role in this and future developments with the SEVIS system. It will also be helpful to us to hear your recommendations for a faster and more complete implementation of the system.

I am encouraged by some of the conversations I have had with the higher education community as to their willingness to work with each other and with federal agencies to ensure the completion of the SEVIS system, and to share the information they have on a timely basis.

I am confident that we can work together to keep the educational opportunities of this great nation available to those who want to take advantage of them while at the same time ensuring the safety of our citizens.

Thank you again for joining us. I would now like to yield time to my colleague and Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on 21st Century Competitiveness, Representative Patsy Mink, for any opening statement.

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