NEW YORK: Malaysian students arriving in the United States this month for the spring intake of universities and colleges were interviewed, fingerprinted and photographed by US Immigration and Naturalisation Service (INS) officers before being allowed into the country.
Among those who went through the process were Mara students, Public Service Department (JPA) scholarship holders and other sponsored students.
Recently, a batch of about 50 students came in through Los Angeles and all except two had to go through the exercise with the INS.
Before being allowed in, the students were directed to report to the nearest INS office after 30 days and subsequently report yearly, during their stay in the country.
The director of the Malaysian Students Department at the Malaysian Embassy in Washington, Dr Zahratul Akmar, said all sponsored students were told that they could be subjected to questioning at the point of entry by INS officers as well as being photographed and fingerprinted.
Dr Zahratul said this was not confined to students. People coming here on business, attending conferences and seminars and those visiting their children studying here were also subjected to this procedure.
However, she said the students were not harassed or given a difficult time.
“The registration takes anything between three and five hours due to the number of people arriving in the US.
“There have been instances where students on transit missed their connecting flights.
“In some cases MAS put them up in hotels for the night to enable them to take the connecting flight the next day. “If the students are on transit we advised them to stop over for the night and take a connecting flight the next day,” she said.
Dr Zahratul said there were times when the flight came in at 11pm and by the time the students went through INS it was 3am.
“In such instances it may not be possible to take for a connecting flight,” she said.
The action being taken to register Malaysian students,does come as a surprise as Malaysia is not among the list of countries that have been blacklisted by the United States.
Last year, Malaysian students faced massive delays in getting visas resulting in many of them including JPA students failing to register in time for the September intake.
The matter was brought to the attention of US Secretary of State Collin Powell when he visited Malaysia earlier last year.
When Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi was in Washington later in the year he met the Director of Homeland Security, Tom Ridge, who informed him that the US Embassy in KL had been directed to speed up the issuing of visas.
Dr Zahratul said students who had any problems could contact her at the Malaysian Embassy in Washington.