YCTs Carp Over UT Kindness

Right-wing objections to reimbursing foreign students' visa fees

Conservative students are irked by UT's decision to reimburse international students a $100 fee the Department of Homeland Security charges them to run its Student and Exchange Visitor Information System, which tracks their whereabouts. "It was because of certain international students that we have this SEVIS system," said Erin Selleck, treasurer of the Austin chapter of Young Conservatives of Texas, referring to some of the 9/11 hijackers who overstayed student visas. "So they're the ones that are causing the security concerns, which is why they should pay their own fee."

Selleck was quick to point out that she in no way meant to imply that all international students should be suspected of being terrorists. But in any case, all international students are dealing with the headaches of the system, and a $100 fee is perhaps the least of their worries. Student visas now require an in-person interview, creating huge backlogs in many countries. Funding cuts – unrelated to security concerns – that slashed the number of U.S. State Department overseas offices are further slowing things down.

But the hassles aren't over once an initial visa is granted, since renewing a visa often requires a whole new security clearance and a whole new period of uncertainty as to when the paperwork will go through. UT's international studies head Jerry Wilcox said that some enrolled students went home for the holidays in December but couldn't get back until the following August because their visas weren't renewed in time for spring classes. "Now people are just scared to go," he said. "There have been some very touching cases where people's mothers or fathers were sick, but they just couldn't go."

And that raises concerns that the best international students will skip the hassle of studying in the U.S. While Homeland Security insists that as many students are coming to the U.S. as ever – and that the 220,000 new international students who arrived in the country in August and September this year are 10,000 more than the year before – Wilcox says UT's grad school applications are down 25%. In that sort of situation, it may take more than a lousy hundred bucks to entice the best international students to come to U.S. universities. Nevertheless, Wilcox says the gesture matters. "There are so many hurdles and obstacles," he said. "Can't we send one message of hopefulness, that we want you to come here?"

Sure, says Selleck. Just don't send the message with her money. "It's great to have students from all over," she said. "But where is the money coming from? If it's with my money, I fully disagree with it."

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

UT, University of Texas, international students, young Conservatives of Texas, YCTs, Erin Selleck, Jerry Wilcox, Dept. of Homeland Security, SEVIS

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