The U.S. government is under much scrutiny after the Boston Marathon bombings. Immigration is no exception. While no radical changes have been announced, the Department of Homeland Security is ordering border agents to check the visa status of every international student entering the country. The increased screening comes as a result of Azamat Tazhayakov, a friend of the suspected bomber who is accused of hiding evidence, being able to return to the U.S. even though he was dismissed from school, an action that made his student visa invalid. If you are an international student, what should you expect now?
Verification Required Before Entering
Border agents now must check a student's visa status before he or she even arrives in the U.S. They'll be searching flight manifests to identify foreign students and checking them before they reach U.S. soil. Previously, visa status was only verified if the student was referred to a second officer for questioning upon arriving. That usually only happened if the student was identified as a national security threat. In most cases, border agents simply checked the paperwork the student was carrying, not verifying if it was up-to-date.
School administrators are responsible for entering international students in the Department of Homeland Security's Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS). It's updated in real-time and tracks each student's documentation and status. Checking SEVIS is now mandatory.
What Does This Mean for You?
If you are an international student, it could mean longer waits at airports. It also means you must have your paperwork in order. Your student visa is your entry ticket into the U.S. They can vary in length depending on your country of origin and the length of your studies. Tighter security means less flexibility. Don't assume because you traveled on an expired visa before, you'll be able to do it again. If your student visa has expired or if you are no longer in school, you must seek another means to stay in the United States or risk deportation. If you need help understanding your options, consider seeking the assistance of an immigration attorney.