WASHINGTON -- The US Immigration and Naturalization Service plans to begin charging international students for the costs of an electronic data transfer system that will process and track their status and movement. Education officials fear the move could encourage foreign engineering and science students to take their skills elsewhere.
The Coordinated Interagency Partnership Regulating International Students, an outgrowth of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996, directs universities to collect a $95 fee from each foreign student who has entered the country since Aug. 1, 1999. The system, however, is not mandated to be operational until 2003.
"Essentially, it places colleges and universities in the role of bill collector for the federal government," said Paul Massey, federal relations associate at the American Council on Education in Washington. "It sets an ominous precedent." The council warns that other agencies will force schools to work without compensation.
"The program has -- in a lot of ways, unfortunately -- been misrepresented," said Eileen Schmidt, a spokeswoman for the immigration service. Universities have long been required to collect the information, and the new system simply manages that data, she said. "The only difference is the collection of the fee."
Schmidt said the ultimate problem is the immigration agency's lack of discretion in the matter. The 104th Congress ordered the agency to create the program and decreed that universities must collect the fees or lose the right to have foreign students.
There are potential repercussions for the photonics industry and research and development. A February 1999 study by the National Science Foundation in Arlington, Va., found that 25 percent of full-time graduate students in the sciences and 47 percent in engineering -- nearly 85,000 individuals -- are not US citizens.
The American Council on Education noted that students would be paying for a system that will not exist for several years. For current international students it is, in effect, an unwelcome tariff on a US education.
The immigration agency says it has tried to minimize the number of students who might decide to study elsewhere and to make the system "as nonintrusive as possible." Schmidt said that, in consultation with the US attorney general, the agency universalized the plan because Congress had intended to track only students from "designated countries."