International students have been apart of the U.S. college atmosphere for years, but more restrictions on student visas and new student tracking systems may discourage some internationals from coming to America.
LSU alumnus Eduardo Aguirre, Jr., U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services director, said changes in keeping up with international students are not a bad thing, and new systems such as the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System, a database tracking system, help separate the good from the bad.
“In the past, there have been very little background checks [on foreign students], and the process was much looser before 9-11,” Aguirre said. “Schools were given more leeway on whether students showed up for classes. We realize this is a generous country, and bad people can take advantage of it.”
Aguirre, who was visiting campus Friday as part of the Chancellor’s Distinguished Speakers series, said he appreciated the opportunity to attend a U.S. university as an immigrant from Cuba. But he said legal differences make his situation for attending an American school different than an international exchange student.
He said because he was already a permanent resident of the United States from Cuba, there were legal differences.
No matter the circumstances, having international students is important because having diversity is a plus for any environment, he said.
“International students bring their academic opinion, knowledge, and their cultures and backgrounds,” Aguirre said.
He said making it harder for international students to get their student visas may keep some students from coming here, but he thinks most students are willing to go through some inconveniences for the benefits of higher learning.
“I like to compare it to airline traveling – anytime we have to go through security in an airport, we might have to take our shoes off or get our laptops or bags checked,” Aguirre said. “It’s an inconvenience we as Americans go through for the comfort of traveling safe. It’s the same for international students and if that means there are inconveniences to come here, they’ll appreciate coming to a safe place.”
Natalie Rigby, International Services Office director, said despite the restrictions and higher expectations, international students find a way to come here, and having them here is important to the University and Louisiana.
She said most international students want to remain in the United States after graduation to get work experience and contribute to the economy.
“They have the opportunity to apply for permission to stay here and most apply for their work visas after they finish school,” Rigby said. “But most do not find a job within a certain amount of time and have to leave because of it.”
She said about 80 percent of the international students who attend the University apply for work visas, but changes in the economy have offered less opportunities than usual.
“Right now the economy is tough and many of them do not find a job within the year and have to go home,” she said. “Sometimes they realize they would have a better chance of finding a job at home right now. But when the economy was better, I would say 60 to 70 percent did find jobs in the United States and would rather stay here.”
Aguirre said despite longer and stricter processes, he thinks students will come here just as often and having them here for college will help with foreign relations in the future.
“We want them to go away feeling friends with the United States because they’re likely to become leaders of their own countries,” he said. “You never know when you could be sitting next to a future president or prime minister, so it’s in our best interest to be friendly to them and have them understand us better.”
Copyright © 2003 Daily Reveille.