International Students Feel Increase in Scrutiny

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One year ago, five men flew an American Airlines airplane into the Pentagon.

One of them had a student visa.

Foreign national Hani Hanjour never showed up for class, but his method of entry into the United States raised serious questions about the Immigration and Naturalization Service and how it kept track of the visas it issued.

It also exposed the nation's international students to increased scrutiny and bureaucratic headaches.

After living in the United States for more than a year, one UC Berkeley international student has only his passport to identify himself.

"I can't get an ID because the (Immigration and National Service) is sticking their nose into everything," said the student, who declined to give his name.

Still, in a world suddenly more dangerous, he said he felt safe.

"I was quite happy to be in Berkeley when (the attacks) happened because that's the last place anyone would attack," he said.

On Sept. 11, 2001, he went surfing at Stinson Beach, not realizing the magnitude of the day's events.

But last week, he refused to give his name for fear his classmates would identify him.

Others were less hesitant.

"If you're coming to do what your supposed to do there's no problem," said UC Berkeley graduate student Sam Nganga of the United Kingdom.

He said the U.S. government had "to do something," for appearance's sake if nothing else.

But he questioned how effective international student policy changes would be.

"If (someone) is suicidal, it doesn't really matter if you know where they are or not," he said.

Many international students said it had become harder to obtain a student visa in the past 12 months.

"I understand the U.S. government is afraid of copycat crime, but it seems to me they are overacting toward international students," said Jin Ju, a visiting law scholar from South Korea.

Despite the increased difficulty in obtaining a visa, the university reports international enrollment has held steady.

Approximately 2,500 international students, hailing from more than 90 countries, attend UC Berkeley every year.

"There haven't been great changes," said UC Berkeley spokesperson Marie Felde.

Following last year's attacks, reported hate crimes increased across Berkeley. But most international students said those crimes did not affect them.

"I think most international students from Asian countries and European countries never felt uncomfortable," Ju said. "Maybe students from Islamic countries felt that way because Hollywood movies describe potential terrorists that way."

Many hate crimes were directed at students that appeared to be of Middle-Eastern descent.

"I was more careful at that time, where I'd go, maybe I'd walk in groups," said junior Kaushal Sanghavi.

An Indian citizen, Sanghavi stressed he had no connection with Afghanistan. But he said people still made hateful remarks toward him.

"A couple of times I heard passing comments but nothing major," he said.

He described an incident when a homeless person at the Durant Food Court told him to "go back to Afghanistan."

But he said he still made the right choice coming to the university two years ago.

"If a student asked me if (they) should come (to the United States), I would not say no," he said.

In an effort to better track international students, the federal government has begun to collect data into a single database for all international students.

The federal government has required all universities comply with the new Student and Exchange Visitor Information System, better known as SEVIS, by Jan. 30, 2003.

Diane Walker, director of SEVIS at UC Berkeley, disputed the public perception that the program was instituted in response to last year's tragedies.

The program had been in the works for a number of years, Walker said, but added it is still "riddled with ambiguities."

Sanghavi said he conditionally supported tracking for international students but rejected Sen. Dianne Feinstein's (D-California) proposal to put a moratorium on student visas until an electronic tracking system had been fully implemented.

"Just for a few (hijackers) I don't think thousands should suffer," Sanghavi said.

Feinstein later withdrew her proposal from the Senate.


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