Originally created 05/06/02

International students under study by feds



ATHENS, Ga. - Xing Zhi Luo doesn't have a problem with the U.S. government's keeping a closer eye on him.

A new national tracking system that will allow the Immigration and Naturalization Service to share his student information with other U.S. agencies doesn't bother the University of Georgia computer science student. The program aims to help the government pinpoint students who might pose a risk to national security.

"I don't think my privacy is hurt," Mr. Luo said.

Universities across the country, including the University of Georgia, are investing in computers and software and working to get the tracking system online by the end of the year.

The tracking program, resisted by some colleges for years, will allow the INS to share basic student information, such as name, address, sex and, most important, enrollment status, said Mark Lusk, the university's associate provost for international affairs.

"We've always had this information at our fingertips - I'm not sure it's effectively been utilized in Washington," said Mr. Lusk, who supports the tracking system as a security precaution.

New regulations would restrict students from certain countries, including Iran, Iraq and North Korea, from participating in sensitive academic programs such as nuclear engineering.

"Universities are part of the response. We have to be proponents of international education, where people understand each other as people," Mr. Lusk said. "The other part of the equation is we need to know where everyone is who has a visa."

Even immigration attorneys and other advocates for immigrants say something must be done to fix the loophole that allows foreign students to drop out of schools or transfer between programs with little or no scrutiny, said David Cox, an Athens immigration lawyer.

"Most people would agree that some tightening is in order - the student (visa) programs are relatively lax compared to other programs," Mr. Cox said. "There's no one to follow up to see if a student's doing what they say they're doing."

The university in Athens enrolls about 1,400 foreign students who pay the school as much as $30 million a year in tuition, fees, living expenses, insurance and books.

Nationwide, about 500,000 students from other countries are earning degrees. They sink $14 billion a year into higher education, providing crucial research support.

Congress approved the tracking system in 1996 in response to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.

College lobbyists, including those at the prestigious American Council on Education, have resisted implementation, worried that the regulation would lead to profiling of foreigners and financial hardships caused by tracking fees levied on students.

Some foreign students and advocates still worry that the upcoming INS change will cause students to be singled out for unfair scrutiny.

Language student Adamou Djibril, of Niger, said he'd seek a degree outside of America if that happens.

Many international students already reveal a great deal of personal information to study abroad, said Miguel Canseco, a Fulbright scholar from Bolivia who was asked to provide Fulbright officials with proof of a clean police record before he was selected.

Mr. Canseco said he doubts the program will find any dangerous people.

"The good people are going to be tracked," he said. "Who's in the system? Legals."