'USA Patriot Act' will require new reports to INS

by Richard Lazarus | 10/30/01 6:00am

Although the changes to immigration policy following the events of Sept. 11 will have a transparent effect on students' visa and immigration process, much of the optimism for easing of immigration law is gone, according to a panel that took place last night in the International House.

Only two pieces of legislation have been passed since Sept. 11 that will directly affect the immigration process, according to Dartmouth International Advisor Robin Catmur, who conducted the panel with her co-worker Ken Reade and geography professor Richard Wright.

The first policy shift was the addition of a new category of visa for those giving evidence about terrorist acts. Then came the USA Patriot Act, which will require closer tracking of international students.

The Patriot Act also mandates that all immigrants in the country report when they leave. Previously there was no requirement that immigrants on any visas, including tourist visas, report when they leave the country.

Most of the international students at Dartmouth are here on F1 visas, or student visas. F1 visas make up a very low portion of the non-permanent immigrant visas given out by the United States.

Due to the USA Patriot Act, the College will report to the Immigration and Naturalization Service certain information that it was already required to gather about students on F1 visas.

The act also gives $40 million to a previously unfunded mandate to create an electronic database of this information for the INS.

The electronic system is called the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System, or SEVIS.

Under the new legislation, the INS requires electronic submission of the data Dartmouth gathers about students on F1 visas, including information on course enrollment, resident address, and enrollment dates. The College was obligated to collect this information prior to the passage of the USA Patriot Act, but it was never required it to submit the data to federal officials.

Dartmouth could have the system by January 2003.

A switch to an electronic system may make processing of some forms, such as work visas, faster.

However, a pilot of the program implemented at some Southern schools was largely unsuccessful, according to Catmur.

Another consequence of the tragedy is that optimism for some changes in the immigration process has fallen.

Wright stated that where chances of an amnesty program for illegal immigrants were high this past summer, chances of such legislation passing are now very low.

A great deal of other legislation about immigration has been introduced in Congress. Although much of it will never even be considered, Wright said that the sheer amount of legislation being considered makes it likely that the number of immigrants admitted annually to the United States will change in the near future.

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