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Hundreds of foreign law students flock to the Delaware Valley each year to gain experience in American law and learn about the culture. But post-9/11 changes to U.S. immigration policy have led to a decline in the number of law school applications received, and one local law dean is none too happy about it. Robert Reinstein, dean of Temple University’s Beasley School of Law, understands the benefits of having foreign law students, both for them and the schools, since Temple has an LL.M. program for international students and also has campuses in two foreign countries where American students may take classes. At a recent American Bar Association workshop for law school deans, Reinstein said he saw the results of a report that showed that applications were substantially down for international LL.M. programs across the country. “Speculation was that it had to be because of the new visa issue,” Reinstein said. “It can’t be a money issue because the dollar is relatively weak compared to the euro or the yen.” The policy change that has Reinstein so irked came in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Before 9/11, foreign students would only need to visit an American consulate in their home country to obtain a student visa, a process that took four to six weeks. The new policy, which kicked in a year after the attacks, calls for FBI security approval for all student visa applications, adding more time and difficulty to the process. Students are now subjected to fingerprinting and extensive research into their backgrounds. Richard Rulon, an immigration lawyer with Klasko Rulon Stock & Seltzer, said that while student visa applicants from every country in the world face enhanced scrutiny, 33 countries receive a higher level of review, and citizens of seven of those countries run into “grave difficulty” gaining access to the United States. Reinstein said he would understand if the American government targeted certain countries whose citizens had been traditionally linked to terrorism, specifically Middle Eastern countries like Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Syria and Iran. “After 9/11, the original policy was to target only the Middle Eastern countries, and there was no outcry [about racial profiling]. U.S. immigration policy has always distinguished between different nationalities — not by race or ethnicity but by identity of country. I don’t see why that should change.” But a country like Italy isn’t among the 33 receiving a higher level of review although its citizens, like those of other countries, undergo increased scrutiny, Reinstein said. “I think that U.S. policy on this is irrational,” Reinstein said. “Italians were not flying planes into the World Trade Center, so it makes no sense to put their citizens through so much to get into the country.” Reinstein said the more expansive policy would ultimately hurt America’s image around the world. He said many foreign students coming to study in the United States are filled with negative views from the state-controlled media in their home countries. “When students come here to study law, they get the whole American experience — culture, democratic values, the rule of law,” Reinstein said. “That produces tremendous good will for America. So if you eliminate that firsthand experience, it would be a shame, because they always take back a better impression than the one they had before.” And in what Reinstein said he believes is retaliation against U.S. immigration policy, American students are having problems obtaining visas to study in other countries. Temple sends 50 JD students to a spring semester program in Tokyo and an additional 70 to Rome over the summer. “Italy has made things much more difficult,” Reinstein said. “It used to be simple but not now. They are threatening to fingerprint our students just as a form of retaliation.” Joanne Verrier, assistant dean at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, said there had not been much of an impact on Penn Law’s LL.M. program, which brings 80 foreigners to its campus each year. In fact, Verrier said she believes the process might be a littler smoother this year, because it is the second year that the new rules have been in effect and applicants have a better idea of what to expect during the visa process. “It’s certainly a more elaborate process, but it hasn’t affected our enrollment [for the next school year that begins in September],” Verrier said. “Applications are down in some countries. China, for example, is down. But my sense is that the university system there is just telling students that visas are harder to come by.” Mark Sargeant, dean of Villanova University School of Law, said foreign JD students at his school are having a more difficult time obtaining visas than in past years. Because the school usually only has about six foreign students, it is not a huge issue. “But we definitely have seen more problems with paperwork,” Sargeant said. “I just don’t know if it’s going to be an ongoing problem.” Temple Law professor Jan Ting, who served a stint as assistant commissioner of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, said cities with large student populations like Philadelphia and Boston should be concerned about these developments. Ting said because the United States is engaged in a war or terrorism, it should be careful who gains admittance through visas. But he said a student is an unlikely disguise for a would-be terrorist. “You have to produce viable school records and recommendations from trustworthy sources,” Ting said. But Rulon said that a student is actually a perfect cover for a terrorist. “[Universities] are where these groups are recruiting the next generation of terrorists,” Rulon said. “So I don’t have a problem with looking closely at students. I do think [U.S. policy] is a little bit of overkill. You are not going to ferret out terrorists committed to engaging in these acts. We should concentrate on locating terrorists abroad rather than assuming everyone is a terrorist and refusing all of these visa applications. “I just don’t know if it’s the best return on investment by spending all this money to catch maybe two people with criminal records. But 9/11 was a shock and people usually overreact to a shock before finding the most effective way to deal with the problem. I don’t think we’ve found that way yet.” Ting said a major problem with the new policy is that the agencies now dealing with the additional scrutiny placed on visa applicants have not been provided additional resources to deal with the increased burden. And he said different government agencies not sharing information with one another is prevalent even after the 9/11 attacks uncovered this problem.

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