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U.S. to impose extra scrutiny on student visa holders

In the wake of the Boston bombings, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has ordered Customs and Border Protection Officers to impose extra scrutiny on individuals entering the United States on student visas. While advocates of the policy believe that the move will improve national security, opponents worry that it could cause unnecessary delays and detentions for students who already face more scrutiny than most foreigners entering the United States.

The policy was implemented after it was determined that a friend of bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev had a lapsed student visa, but was allowed to reenter the United States after having spent some time in his home country of Kazakhstan. The friend has been charged in connection with the attack.

Verification may be burdensome

The policy requires border agents to verify that every international student has a valid student visa before he or she is allowed to enter the United States. On its face, this policy seems simple and obvious. However, problems with CPB's technology mean that checking the validity of a visa isn't nearly as easy as it might seem.

Student visa data is maintained in a computer system called the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System. But, many border agents do not have SEVIS access. Instead, they must conduct a manual investigation into the student's visa status. In nearly all cases, the student is detained while this investigation is conducted.

Opponents of the policy worry that this detention could be an unduly burdensome experience for international students. In addition, they fear that detention could actually be traumatic for students who are coming to the United States from a country with an authoritarian or oppressive regime. This is especially true because visa holders have not been given advance notice of the change in policy.

Student visa requirements

When it comes to getting a student visa, prospective international students already face a laborious process.

Most international post-secondary students will need to obtain one of two different kinds of visas. F visas are for students seeking to attend college, university, conservatory or seminary programs. M visas are for students who wish to enroll in a vocational or technical program.

In order to qualify for a visa, students must first be accepted by an approved educational institution. They must then complete a visa application and pass an interview and background check before a visa can be issued.

International students must stay enrolled in their approved educational program or their visa will become invalid. In addition, students must leave the United States or adjust their immigration status before their visa expires.

If you have any questions about applying for a student visa, or if you are worried about the validity of your student visa, it is important to talk with an experienced immigration attorney. An attorney will be able to help you ensure that you complete your application correctly and stay in compliance with U.S. immigration laws.