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Argument: Foreign student visas are a national security vulnerability

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Supporting evidence from the Economist debate series

Student visas are ideal cover for terrorists, criminals, and other young, unattached people who would not otherwise qualify for entry, and they provide legal status for years at a time. Few, if any, governments can track how many foreign students stay on to work illegally after they are finished studying (or who never show up to study at all). A September 2005 report by my organization looked into the immigration histories of 94 international terrorists who operated in the U.S. in recent years, and found that 18 of them, including several of the 9/11 attackers, had been granted student visas and another four had applications approved to study in the United States.
Espionage is also a concern, both for the government and for any business with foreign competitors. As far back as 1996, the FBI has been warning Congress that other nations were using foreign students as spies: 'Countries recruit students before they come to the United States to study and task them to send any technological information they acquire back to their home country. . . . Upon completion of their studies, some foreign students are then encouraged to seek employment with U.S. firms to steal proprietary information.' (testimony of then-FBI director Louis Freeh).
Obviously not all foreign students are spies or terrorists, and most governments recognize the invaluable public diplomacy and good will that can be accomplished through admitting foreign students. The important point is that international student recruitment should not be pursued blindly, oblivious to an individual school’s mission and public accountability, or indifferent to the security of all."
  • Jessica Vaughn. Economist Debate Series. The Opposition's rebuttal. December 14th, 2007 - "A number of commenters suggested that the terrorism/security arguments are irrelevant. I wish it were so. Just four months ago, two Egyptian students attending the University of South Florida were caught with pipe bombs near a Navy installation in South Carolina. One is accused of producing a how-to video on using remote-controlled toys to detonate bombs. This is relevant because efforts by government to impose prudent controls aimed at preventing terrorists from gaining entry with a student visa are always opposed by higher education on the grounds that they are threatening to the free exchange of ideas (not to mention their tuition revenues). To deny the security risks is irresponsible, and the higher education industry would be better advised to work cooperatively with federal authorities to make sure that they do not unwittingly facilitate such incidents. After all, like the travel industry, academia has a lot to lose if there are more attacks and the nation is perceived to be unsafe."


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