U.S. may increase student visa costs

(UWIRE) Fees for international student and exchange visitor visas will most likely double to $200 by this fall in an effort to upgrade a federal Homeland Security surveillance program that monitors these students’ and visitors’ statuses and whereabouts once they enter the United States.

Brandon Montgomery, spokesperson for the U.S. Immigration and Customs Office of Public Affairs, said the increased fees are intended to fund an overhaul of the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System, making the database more automated and accessible to participating institutions, and would pay for additional agents for the program. He noted Congress mandated that the program be developed, but required costs to be borne by participating institutions and international students.

Montgomery said as of Jan. 15, 2008, there were 978,906 active non-immigrant students, exchange visitors and their dependents registered through SEVIS. Of those in the database, 2,500 are international students and scholars currently under the sponsorship of the University, said Benjamin Howe, international student and scholar advisor at the University’s International Studies Office.

In response to criticisms and concerns that have been raised, suggesting this additional fee projects an unwelcome climate and might decrease the number of international student applicants to U.S. institutes of higher education, Montgomery said he believes the fee is reasonable, noting the average yearly cost of tuition at a private university is $23,700.

“The cost [of a visa] to the student is minimal, especially when you look at how much they already have to invest,” Montgomery said.

Howe said he agrees with Montgomery’s position, although he added that concerns are also justified because of the extra cost for students.

“We [at the ISO] are not proponents of this fee by any stretch of the imagination,” he said. “But we also understand the need for the U.S. to have a robust immigration structure.”

The proposal, which is scheduled to take effect Oct. 1, 2008, is currently in the public comment period, Montgomery said.

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