Sen. Dianne Feinstein said Friday she is ready to drop her call for a six-month moratorium on student visas if colleges work more closely with immigration authorities to monitor foreign students in the United States.
The idea for a temporary suspension of student visas was the most controversial aspect of Feinstein's proposal, announced last week, for tighter restrictions on foreign students after the terrorist attacks.
In a letter Friday to the Democratic California senator, David Ward, the president of the nation's leading organization of colleges and universities, pledged that schools would provide immigration authorities with more information about their foreign students and act quickly to notify the INS when an expected student does not enroll.
One of the 19 hijackers in the Sept. 11 attacks apparently entered the United States on a student visa to enroll at a language school in Oakland. He never showed up, the school's officials said.
Ward, the president of the American Council on Education, wrote to Feinstein on behalf of 18 organizations representing colleges, universities, registrars and teachers of foreign students.
"The actions we propose will result in a much higher level of security," he wrote. "By adopting such steps, we believe it will be unnecessary to pursue more far-reaching actions."
The letter, detailing educators' proposals for improving the screening and tracking of foreign students, followed meetings this week between the senator's staff and higher education officials, including representatives of the University of California, the California State University system and other schools.
In response, Feinstein said she was willing to work with the educators and to put their commitments to the test.
"If we can get cooperation from the schools with regard to student visa reporting requirements, the moratorium will not be necessary," she said in a statement.
College and university officials nationwide had expressed concern over the proposed moratorium, even as many said they supported plans for closer monitoring of foreign nationals attending U.S. schools. Some educators said a moratorium might cripple certain schools and programs but do little to solve the nation's security problems.
Ward and other higher education officials have pointed to figures showing that foreign students represent less than 2% of the foreigners who enter the country each year on temporary visas. There are about half a million foreign students in the U.S.
But Feinstein said then that the INS needed time to get an effective computerized tracking program up and running.
Spokesman Howard Gantman said Feinstein will hold a hearing next week on the student and other visa issues in the subcommittee she chairs on technology, terrorism and government information.