Content Main Navigation Sub Navigation Site Tools
Interlink Banner
Main Navigation:   Home     About Interlink     You Should Know     Chronology     Special Registration     Your Rights     Meetings     News     Links  

You Should Know

Changes in visa regulations affect 40% of graduate student population

Little did anybody realize, how September 11 2001 would change life here at MIT. Most changes have just begun. Chances are, that you’re part of the 60% of US citizens in the graduate student population. But of course there is a 40% chance that you aren’t. Or that somebody you know isn’t. As Chancellor Phil Clay put it: “if 40% of the MIT community is hurting, all of us are hurting”. This is why all of us need to be informed about changes in visa regulations and how they are going to affect us here at MIT. This is easier said than done, since according to Danielle Guichard-Ashbrook, the Director of the International Student’s Office (ISO), “every week or two something changes”. She advises students to regularly check the ISO’s webpage, and not just before you’re traveling abroad.

The first change for international students was instated in January 2002. If you have to apply for a visa, which you need to be valid for reentry into the US, and you are male and between the ages of 16 - 45, you have to fill out 2 additional application forms. You need the addresses of 10 friends, who are not relatives of yours, who can verify your personal information. You need to report the addresses of all your immediate family. You also have to remember the dates and countries you traveled in within the last 10 years. Of course any military experience has to be documented. Even if you’re female, you may be requested to fill out these forms.

Starting July 1st 2002, if you meet certain (but not publicly known) criteria, your visa application and your visa documents (including your passport) may be sent to Washington, DC, for administrative review. So far it takes 4 – 5 months for Washington to give clearance, in which case the embassy can issue you your visa. If you are male and from the Middle East, chances are higher that you require special clearance. But also some Chinese, Russian, French, German and Swedish students from MIT who applied or reapplied for a visa this summer required special clearance. According to Guichard-Ashbrook, “your ethnicity may matter, but also your department matters”. 6 out of the 20 students who are still waiting for their special clearance to occur, are from the Nuclear Engineering Department. Right now, it takes a minimum of 3 weeks to obtain a visa, and on average it takes 6 – 8 weeks. But you have no way of knowing when you will receive your visa. Therefore for international students it is a harsh decision whether they should risk it to leave the US, be it to visit a dying relative, and then to wait for an undefined amount of time whether they will receive a visa or not. Just think of how your advisor would react if you tell her/him that you’ll be abroad and you don’t know when and if you will come back.

In September 2002, the Interim Student Exchange Application System (ISEAS) took effect. In case you need a new visa, the ISO has to electronically notify and supply the embassy with information that currently is on your I-20 or IAP-66. These are visa documents that show that an international student is legally in the US and which are required for visa applications. Visas will not be issued if the ISO does not enter the required data into ISEAS. As the name of this system indicates, this is just an interim system, to be replaced or complemented (it is unclear as to what will happen) by the Student Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) which according to current plans will be in effect by January 30th, 2003. This system is also known as student tracking system. It is as of yet unclear as to exactly what data will be entered in this data base and who besides the INS has access to it. Likely candidates are the FBI and CIA. It is clear though that you will not be notified if any of these agencies accesses your files. In case you need a new I-20 or IAP-66, the ISO has to submit all your required information to the INS electronically and the INS will make a decision within 24h whether the ISO may issue you I-20 or IAP-66 or not. Right now, the ISO doesn’t have to ask the INS for permission to issue an I-20 or IAP-66. Once SEVIS is in effect, the ISO has to report 21 days in advance if you plan to take a leave of absence including the reason for your leave (no matter how personal it is). The same is required if you need a medical leave of absence. Even the reason for a medical leave has to be reported, which due to confidentiality has never before been the case. In case you switch departments or your source of funding changes (from self supported or supported from abroad to an RA/TA or vice versa), it needs to be reported. SEVIS is being tested by a few universities at the moment, and according to Martha Turner, a member of NAFSA (Association of International Educators) and associate ISO director of Washington University in St Louis, MO, SEVIS is fraught with glitches. A glitch in the system or human error (when entering data) easily causes the system to declare a student out of legal status. The ISO has no access to the database other than to enter data, therefore the ISO has no power to rectify the situation. This unfortunate student then has to leave the country and may or may not be reinstated.

The anniversary of September 11 was marked by the attorney general’s office's declaration that Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Syria, and Libya are state sponsors of terrorism. 13 more countries (Afghanistan, Algeria, Bahrain, Eritrea, Lebanon, Morocco, North Korea, Oman, Qatar, Somalia, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen) were added on November 22nd, and more countries will be added to this list in the near future. Nationals of these countries and anyone designated by INS officers at a port of entry (meaning, this can happen to anyone who is an international student) in the US has to go through a process called “Special Registration”. This is a secondary inspection that includes being photographed, finger printed and interviewed at the port of entry. Within 30 to 40 days of entering the US, you have to appear at the INS in Boston to be fingerprinted again. “Registered nonimmigrants are required to notify an INS officer when they leave or travel from the U.S. When a nonimmigrant is initially registered, they will be given a list of airports, seaports, or land ports to use to leave the U.S. Please note: All special registrants MUST depart ONLY through one of these designated ports of departure.” For more information, visit How the INS makes a decision for declaring you a special registrant is unclear, Danielle Guichard-Ashbrook said.

The most important thing for an international student right now is to stay in legal standing. You have to maintain your full-time student status at all times. In case you move, the INS has to be notified with your new address within 10 days. See for more information. Keep your I-20 or IAP-66 valid at all times and have it signed by the ISO every 6 months even if you don’t plan to travel. Notify the ISO 1 month in advance if you need a new I-20 or IAP-66. If your I-20 or IAP-66 is already expired, you have to leave the US, since you’re no longer in legal standing. It will be very hard if not impossible to get reinstated. So tonight, when you leave your lab and you go home, check your documents.

MIT Logo
Copyright © 2002, InterLink. Last modified on Thursday, 20-Mar-2003 17:04:19 EST by