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Bush's science advisor discusses plans for new student visa reviews

President George Bush's science advisor, John Marburger, and aides briefed members of the higher education community Tuesday on the administration's plans regarding access by international students to education and training in sensitive areas of study.

Conducting the briefing on the provisions of the President's October 29, 2001 Homeland Security directive were Marburger, who also is director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy; assistant OSTP director James Griffin; and two other OSTP representatives, according to the Association of American Universities.

The criteria for review--and especially the definition of "sensitive areas" have not yet been developed fully, and remain to be worked out. Marburger and Griffin said this would be done in consultation with various federal agencies and community representatives.

The administration's plan is focused on the creation of a new Interagency Panel on Advancing Science and Security (IPASS) that will function as a mechanism to provide another level of review for all specialized visas--including student visas (F visas), visas for postdoctoral fellows and researchers (J visas), and visas for students pursuing vocational programs (M visas).

IPASS reviews would be triggered whenever regular reviews of visas find that applicants fit certain criteria, such as being citizens of countries known to sponsor terrorism and applying for study in specific areas of study that are "uniquely available in the United States" and in sensitive areas.

Once IPASS has completed its review of a visa applicant, the panel's findings and recommendations would be forwarded to the Immigration and Naturalization Service or the State Department, depending on the circumstances of the particular case, for action.

IPASS's role would be strictly advisory, and the panel could take no formal action itself. IPASS will review current visa holders according to the same procedures. It is expected that IPASS will be created by a special presidential order or directive, and not through the normal federal rulemaking process. The timetable for this is not yet spelled out.

The higher education community's initial reaction to this plan was that it appeared to be a positive step, although there is interest in seeing a written version and learning details. The community expressed appreciation for the opportunity to receive information on the plan, and the opportunity to provide feedback as the plan evolves.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on May 8, 2002.

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