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Subcommittees on 21st Century Competitiveness and Select Education
Committee on Education and the Workforce
United States House of Representatives
International Students

October 31, 2001

Mister Chairman and Members of the Committee:

Thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today to explain the role of the Bureau of Consular Affairs, and most particularly our visa processing system, in documenting foreign students to study in the United States. I am keenly aware that the events of September 11 have heightened congressional attention on this issue. My testimony will focus on the process and criteria we use to determine the eligibility of applicants by foreign nationals to study in the United States. I will also note how our activities and those of the INS are designed to complement each other.

It is a tribute to the quality of the educational system in the United States that so many foreign nationals seek to pursue their studies here. Our student visa policy is based on the democratic values of an open society and the general perception of the American public that foreign students make a tremendous contribution to our nation’s intellectual and academic climate as well as to our nation’s economy. In addition, a U.S. education plays an invaluable role in spreading American values overseas and in strengthening our bilateral and person-to-person ties with countries throughout the world.

The criteria of U.S. immigration law have for many years made it relatively easy for bona fide students to pursue study in the U.S. There are no quotas and few restrictions. Prospective students can freely contact U.S. academic institutions to find a program that suits their interests and financial circumstances in very much the same manner as U.S. students.

Many of our overseas consular and public diplomacy sections, Fulbright Institutions, and other educational organizations go to great lengths to meet the demand for information from prospective students through outreach programs, web sites, and handouts. These generally reflect our nation’s long-standing interest in promoting study in the United States.

Consular officers evaluate student visa applications as they do all nonimmigrant visa applications – by looking at the full range of criteria established by U.S. immigration law. The most pertinent elements are the credibility of applicants’ plans to study in the United States and whether they have the financial means to pay for their education. As further required under U.S. law, the officer also determines whether a student visa applicant has a residence abroad that he or she has no intention of abandoning, and intends to depart from the U.S. upon completion of the course of study.

Every prospective student must present Form I-20A-B, Certificate of Eligibility For Nonimmigrant (F-1) Student Status - for academic and language students, or Form

I-20M-N, Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant (M-1) Student Status - for vocational students, properly completed and signed by the applicant and a designated school official. This document informs the consular officer of the nature of the program, the required English language fluency of the visa applicant, and the funds necessary for the program. These documents constitute evidence that the applicant has been accepted for attendance for the purpose of pursuing a full course of study in an academic or nonacademic institution approved by the Attorney General for foreign students under the Immigration and Nationality Act.

In addition to the "F" and "M" student visas, the Department of State administers the exchange visitor program, which has 13 categories of exchange visitors including students who enter the country to pursue academic studies at secondary and post secondary academic institutions. An applicant is classifiable as an exchange visitor, eligible to participate in an exchange visitor program designed by the Department of State, when he or she presents a properly executed Form IAP-66, Certificate of Eligibility for Exchange Visitor (J-1) Status.

Those student visa applications that are denied are usually done so for one of two reasons: either the applicant does not have a bona fide interest in pursuing a course of study and is likely to seek unauthorized employment in the United States, or the applicant (or his or her family) does not have financial resources sufficient for the full course of study. Preliminary 2001 figures indicate our visa issuing offices abroad issued nearly 293,000 student "F" visas, 5,400 "M" visas, and 262,000 exchange visitor "J" visas. I am attaching to my testimony for the record visa issuance figures for the past five years.

At this point, Mr. Chairman, I would like to remind the committee that all visa applications, including student and exchange visitors, are processed using automated systems, which prompt a namecheck through the Department of State’s centralized lookout system, known as CLASS. A consular officer must review all hits before the case can be formally approved for printing. There is no override for this feature. Simply stated, it is not possible to issue a visa unless a namecheck has been completed and reviewed by an officer. I would also like to emphasize, Mr. Chairman, that the Department has in place special headquarters clearance procedures for nationals of certain countries including students – such as those on the State Sponsors of Terrorism list – as well as for those whose planned travel raises concerns about unauthorized access to sensitive technologies. In those cases, Washington clearance is required before the visa may be issued.

Let me now turn to how the work of consular officers and INS officers complement each other. Consular officers deal with student visa applicants. The INS deals with U.S. academic institutions. More precisely, INS has the legal responsibility of determining which U.S. institutions may accept foreign students and thus issue the I-20 form. On occasion, consular officers have found evidence of the misuse of the I-20 form and provided it to the INS. But we do not have a legal role in determining the criteria for determining which institutions may accept foreign students.

The events of September 11 have brought into sharp focus the need to more closely monitor the status of nonimmigrants, including students, in the United States. In fact, measures to accomplish the monitoring of students have been underway for some time. In response to a requirement in the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996, in 1997 the INS initiated a pilot program to collect information, monitor the academic progress, and movement of foreign students and exchange visitors in the United States. This pilot program was known as CIPRIS, the Coordinated Interagency Partnership Regulating International Students.

Legislation enacted last year amended the provision for collection of the fee imposed on foreign students and exchange visitors to fund the nationwide system currently under development, the Student and Exchange Visitor Program, or SEVP. As the INS has been charged with the development of this program, in consultation with the Departments of State and Education, I will defer to my INS colleague to outline SEVP in detail. For my part, I believe that when the system is deployed nationwide, our ability to collect, maintain and track information relative to international students and exchange visitors will not only contribute to our national security, but also add integrity to the visa issuance process by ensuring the security of the I-20 and IAP-66 forms that are central to the processing of these visa categories.

We are actively participating with our colleagues from the Immigration and Naturalization Service, as well as the academic community, in the design and development of SEVP and its core application, the Student and Exchange Visitor System, SEVIS, designed to convert what was largely a manual, paper-based process to a modern automated system.


Mr. Chairman, our free and open society will continue to attract talented young people seeking greater educational opportunities, as well as those seeking political, economic and social freedoms and opportunities. As I said at the opening of these remarks, foreign students make a tremendous contribution to the American academic climate as well as to the economy, and a U.S. education plays an invaluable role in spreading American values overseas and in strengthening our bilateral and person-to-person ties with countries throughout the world. We must continue to nurture this vital relationship as we improve the security of our borders.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and members of the subcommittees, for permitting me to share my thoughts with you today. I would now be pleased to answer any questions you may have.

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