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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, April 9, 2002

Tighter student visa rules may affect 540 in Hawai'i

By Beverly Creamer
Advertiser Education Writer

As many as 540 foreign students who come to Hawai'i every year to go to college could be affected by new visa rules requiring foreigners to get student visas before beginning classes.

About 90 percent of Hawai'i's 5,400 international students should not be affected by the regulations announced by the Immigration and Naturalization Service yesterday.

"The vast majority of our students do come in with visas," said Hawai'i INS district director Don Radcliffe.

The tough new regulations are part of heightened scrutiny of the nation's 600,000 foreign students after it was found that two Sept. 11 terrorists entered the country as tourists, then applied for student visas.

Until now, students or visitors could request a visa and begin course work while it was being processed, which could take as long as a year. That will no longer be possible.

Yet the new rule could prove to be a boon for some students, said Nancy Ellis, vice president of student support services for Hawai'i Pacific University, which has the most foreign students in Hawai'i, at 1,800. Requests to switch to a student visa are supposed to be processed within 30 days, according to the INS.

"This could be wonderful," said Ellis. "It could improve things if they're able to keep to this 30 days. Students used to wait a while longer for visas to be changed."

Few of HPU's international students arrive without a visa in hand, however, Ellis said.

Radcliffe said his office would be able to handle the speeded-up processing.

The INS plans to add 8,000 to 10,000 employees nationwide — 25 percent more than the current 34,000 — in the next year or two to handle the increased workload. A new computerized tracking system also will go into effect this year or next.

"I assume we'll get a share of that," Radcliffe said.

Additional resources for the 330 INS employees in Hawai'i and Guam probably will come in the area of enforcement, special agents and adjudicators.

Meanwhile, the INS has been busy cross-checking lists of foreign students it subpoenaed from the University of Hawai'i-Manoa, Chaminade and HPU in October to make sure all are in the country legally. Subpoenas will go out later to remaining schools, such as Brigham Young University-Hawai'i and the UH community colleges.

"We have not deported anyone," Radcliffe said. "It's an ongoing investigation."

Ellis of HPU said she tells nervous students not to worry. "As long as you continue to go to school, you will have no problems."

Reach Bev Creamer at bcreamer@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8013.