A few days after Sep. 11, Sireen Karam emptied out her half of her dorm room into a couple of suitcases, bought a last-minute ticket and boarded two airplanes before arriving home.
“I didn’t want to be hassled because of my religion or race,” confided the 20-year-old former UM business major during an interview from Alexandria, Egypt, where she is currently studying.
“My parents were sort of worried, but ultimately it was my decision to leave,” explained Karam, who entered the university with a superb application that netted the Stanford and Business Dean’s scholarships, which when combined slashed more than half of her tuition.
At least seven other students -four from the Middle East and three from Brazil- who left UM shortly after the terrorist attacks, returned to Miami in time for spring classes.
“Traffic in our office has increased dramatically,” said Teresa de la Guardia, director of the Office of International Students, who added she’s glad that foreign students are being more serious about keeping their status inline.
Indeed, some of the rules of the game concerning foreign students seeking degrees at American universities are beginning to change in considerable ways.
For starters, universities will be required to follow students’ moves more closely.
“We’re moving aggressively to launch SEVIS by Jan. 2003,” said Daniel Kein, spokesman for the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) in Washington D.C., in reference to the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System; a program designed to track and monitor students who enter the county on student visas.
The INS is currently requiring universities to report students who haven’t graduated and are no longer enrolled-an added responsibility that was not customary in the past.
Adequate student tracking will require a colossal effort, considering that out of the roughly seven million non-immigrants who entered the United States last year, approximately 500,000 walked in with a student visa.
The INS has identified 315,000 aliens -including three of the Sept.11 hijackers- who should be deported for overstaying their stay on U.S. soil.
In the future, all foreign male applicants will be required to fill out a form disclosing any sort of weapon training, and prospective students from countries that have supported terrorism in the past, will undergo tighter screening that could take up to 20 extra days, according to new regulations mandated by the Department of State.
Due to the volatile state of events shortly after Sept. 11, UM’s Office of International Admissions cut down recruitment trips by approximately three-quarters last fall.
“We have tried to recruit in some of the regions where we were not able to in the fall, but we haven’t been able to reach all of the countries and cities we normally visit,” said Mark Reid, director of International Admissions.
One curious trend the International Admission staff noted in recent months is a rise in undergraduate applications from Middle Eastern women, who in the past, have been overwhelmingly outnumbered by men.
Some of the essays prospective students of Muslim decent submitted with their applications to UM after September 11 “were almost apologetic in tone,” according to Reid, who said many felt compelled to elucidate on the true nature of Islam, in an effort to counter negative stereotypes Sept. 11 cast on the faith.
UM’s Intensive English program, which has been tremendously profitable in the past, has suffered enormously from visa rejections. According to Reid, enrollment to similar programs across the country has slipped to about 50 percent.
Such figures upset members of the National Association of International Education (NAFSA) who warn that countries such as Great Britain, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Germany and France are aggressively pursuing a larger share of the international student market.
And quite a market it is.
According to NAFSA figures, the more than half a million international students who studied in the United States during the 2001-2002 academic year generated more than $11 billion for the county’s economy, making international education the fifth-largest U.S. service-sector export.
In terms of the job market, sources familiar with recruitment and immigration law agree that the aftermath of Sept. 11 will have little impact on international students who wish to extend the one-year practical training allowed by their status to a lengthier stay in the American corporate world.
“It’s always been very difficult for them [international students] to get visas and work in this country,” said Jim Smart, director of the Toppel Career Center, who added that scant opportunities for non-citizens are not 9/11 related but rather economically driven.