Last modified: Wednesday, October 6, 2004
IU President Adam W. Herbert calls for action to correct student visa problem
NOTE: For a PDF of Indiana University President Adam W. Herbert's testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, go to http://newsinfo.iu.edu/pub/libs/images/usr/569_h.pdf.
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Foreign students not only improve the quality of education at Indiana University and other U.S. campuses, but they often take home an appreciation for American life that lasts a lifetime, Indiana University President Adam W. Herbert told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday (Oct. 6).
Herbert said IU and many other academic institutions are seeing a significant drop in applications from prospective foreign students, and he warned that this trend could have a harmful effect on higher education in America if it is not reversed.
Herbert's testimony came during a hearing called to examine problems resulting from post-9/11 procedures for issuing visas to prospective foreign students. In many countries, this new process has created backlogs of applicants who sometimes have to wait weeks or months to find out if they will be admitted to the United States.
Herbert told the committee, which is chaired by Sen. Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.), that some of these new visa procedures may actually be doing more harm than good because they are choking off the flow of foreign students who are no threat to the country.
Herbert said he supports proposed legislative action that would eliminate some of these bottlenecks.
"We believe there is a critical need to re-examine current visa policies. This is a moment for decisive action," Herbert said. "The outstanding programs we have worked to build -- many of which further national strategic interests -- are currently at risk."
Herbert was one of three university presidents invited by Lugar to testify on the importance of maintaining strong international student programs on U.S. campuses. Lugar is considering introducing legislation that would eliminate bottlenecks in the visa process and increase the number of foreign service officers in the State Department who handle visa applications.
Also testifying were Purdue University President Martin C. Jischke and University of Maryland President C.D. Mote Jr.
IU enrolled a total of 4,455 international students for the fall semester on its eight campuses, a decrease of 4.2 percent from fall 2003.
More troubling to IU officials, however, is that applications from international students are down 20 percent overall. At the Bloomington campus, which has long drawn its largest numbers of international students from five Asian nations -- South Korea, China, India, Taiwan and Japan -- enrollments of these students have declined 11.6 percent.
Patrick O'Meara, dean of International Programs, noted that the U.S. Department of State is making efforts to reduce the backlog of visa applicants. He believes, though, that the lengthy process is discouraging many potential foreign students from even attempting to apply.
Under the new rules, every visa applicant must go to an American Consulate office and undergo a face-to-face interview with a foreign service officer. The applications from potential science students are also sent to Washington for security clearances. These and other requirements have created a backlog of applications in many countries.
"We regularly hear from students and scholars that the process is time-consuming and difficult to navigate," O'Meara said. "We welcome this review by Sen. Lugar to see if more can be done to resolve this problem."
In his Senate testimony, Herbert endorsed recommendations by the Association of International Educators for streamlining the process. The association has proposed allowing consulates to waive the face-to-face interview for low-risk applicants and establishing a pre-certification process for some categories of students and scholars.
Herbert told the committee that IU has successfully adapted to the computer-based Student and Exchange Visitor Information System, which documents the presence and attendance of foreign students.
"While improvements and enhancements are still needed, we believe that SEVIS supports the flow of legitimate students and scholars by helping to weed out those seeking to enter the U.S. under false pretenses," Herbert said in written remarks delivered to the committee.
Herbert said IU benefits in many ways from the presence of large numbers of foreign students and visiting scholars. "They add to our diversity, bring knowledge and skills to IU's classrooms, laboratories and research programs, and also enhance scholarly collaboration."
International students assist in the instruction in many university departments. These departments would be seriously under-staffed without them, Herbert told the committee. In language and culture classes, they provide an authenticity and youthful enthusiasm that could not be replicated.
Herbert told the committee that many international students return to their native lands to assume positions of leadership and responsibility. Among IU's international alumni are a supreme court justice in the Philippines, a dean and rector of the National Institute of Administration in Thailand, and a former trade minister of Georgia who is now that country's liaison to the European Union.
For more information, contact Larry MacIntyre, IU Media Relations, at 812-856-1172 or 812-360-0909 (cell).