Non-citizen students face entry restrictions

by Steven Orbuch | 11/24/03 6:00am

After Sept. 11, the United States government imposed a set of special registration requirements that typically apply to non-citizens whose nations of origin are countries that have been listed as a security threats to the United States. According to Advisor to International Students and Scholars Robin Catmur, many international students continue to approach her every day, concerned about how these post-Sept. 11 registration requirements may affect them.

Most of the countries of origin listed as threats are predominately Arab or Muslim states. Some exceptions include North Korea and Cuba. At present, between 30 and 50 undergraduates, graduate students and faculty are of these origins, Catmur said.

Catmur said that those persons who fall under the criteria for special registration are subject to having their photo and fingerprints taken at American borders posts.

Those subject to the special requirements must also register to meet with an immigration officer for an exit interview upon leaving the country, Catmur said, and if they fail to do so, they risk being barred from the United States upon reentry.

Catmur also said that the International Office informs students that may be subject to special registration to sign up for exit interviews. To her knowledge, only one Dartmouth student had ever been stopped at reentry.

This student was stopped because he had left the United States from an airport an hour in which an interview officer was not on location. He thought that he could therefore just leave without an interview.

Catmur said that the student was interviewed and let back into the country once the he established that the whole situation was a misunderstanding.

Many students have expressed fear that special registration may impede their trips home, Catmur said.

According to Catmur, smaller exit ports cannot accommodate international travel for people subject to special registration because they do not have the appropriate staff to conduct the exit interviews.

Catmur said that another potential impediment to travel was that sites that do offer exit interviews do not necessarily offer the service 24 hours a day.

For example, Logan Airport exit interviewers operate on a business day schedule, albeit with extended hours, Catmur said.

This means that if a special registration traveler were to have a late night flight, he would either have to arrive much earlier for an exit interview, or wait over until the next day.

However, Catmur indicated that she did not think that special registration requirements made the process of leaving the country too drawn-out. The primary problem with special registration is the psychological impact that it has on its subjects, Catmur said.

"The interview is fairly invasive," Catmur said. "They want to know the names and addresses of people, family and friends in the U.S."

Immigration officers can also ask Dartmouth students subject to special requirement for copies of their credits and the names of their roommates, Catmur said.

At present, the Federal government is debating whether or not it will continue the current special registration process in the future.

If the government eliminates the current system, it would be replaced by the U.S. Visit System -- a system that will monitor the flow of all non-citizens in and out of the United States. Proponents of the U.S. Visit System highlight the fact that it would not specifically target individuals of certain descent and claim that once implemented it would operate more smoothly than the current system.

The U.S. Visit System may go into effect as early as 2004.