National / News / September 28, 2011

DHS to streamline student visa application process

For international students, the process to get a F-1 student visa can be at times troubling, frustrating and downright scary, but the new initiative from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) hopes to fix the anxiety.

DHS announced last week the new Study in the States initiative to help ease the visa process for college students and institutions.

“The Study in the States initiative really doesn’t have anything, per se, [to do] with the actual process of applying for a student visa,” Vice President for Enrollment and Dean of Admission Paul Steenis said. “What it has to do with is helping students navigate and understand how the immigration process works.”

Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano and Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director John Morton announced on Sept. 16 the new program and website.

For freshman Nadia Tapfumaneyi, originally from Zimbabwe, the process was easy for her to understand, but getting an appointment for her visa interview was her biggest challenge.

“It was hard to get an appointment date because it was basically full,” Tapfumaneyi said.

The new initiative doesn’t change any of the appointment procedures or any other steps in the process, but hopes to clarify any confusion.

The new initiative hopes to encourage more international students to study in the U.S. with future hopes to streamline the process while maintaining the security of the program.

“I had a friend who had already come here so it made it a little easier, but without that it’s really difficult just to know where to get started,” junior Hatim Mustaly, an international student from India, said, talking about his own interaction with the visa process.

The initiative hopes to fix this anxiety with the new website (studyinthestates.dhs.gov/) and use social media to keep students better informed of future changes in the visa process.

The website hopes to benefit incoming students as well as the around 125 current international students at Knox understand the rules and other information associated with the visa and international study process.

On top of the information for students, the site also has information for institutions.

Before this program the visa system was confusing to some and even a hindrance for recruiting.

“This represents an effort on the part of the United States government to recognize that one the hurdles to get students to study in the United States is a perception sometimes that we are not as receptive or interested in international students in the United States as the Australians or the British or folks in New Zealand or even Canada,” Steenis said.

“Attracting the best and brightest international talent to our colleges and universities is an important part of our nation’s economic, scientific and technological innovation and competitiveness,” Secretary Napolitano said in a press release announcing the initiative.

While the press release states that the program hopes to encourage students to stay following education, Steenis is quick to note that students can jeopardize their visa status if there is any indication that they will try to immigrate after their education is complete.

Students can temporarily remain in the U.S. after college through the Optional Practical Training program for 29 months or by getting a work visa for up to six years.

It has yet to be seen if any policies will change regarding students after graduation, but, as far as Steenis knows, there have been no changes.

“The one thing that I would like to see … incorporating some information to learn about American college/universities and something that promotes America as a destination in which to study,” Steenis said.

Steenis also notes that there will be an update to the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) in the coming future, but there has been no clear date set by the government organizations involved.

SEVIS is the program that electronically certifies that the student is eligible to study here. The new system will make it easier for institutions and consulates to access the information as well as for the students to view their records and make the process more paperless.

John Williams


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