Sticking to the rules

August 13, 2006

In the midst of last week's foiled terrorist plot, 11 Egyptian students who failed to show up for a monthlong program at Montana State University - at least two of whom were arrested in Dundalk - generated perhaps inordinate concern. Federal officials who conducted a nationwide search don't seem to think any of the wayward students is a security threat. At least some apparently used foreign student visas in order to seek work in the U.S. That's an unfortunate consequence of encouraging young foreigners to study here - and also why authorities are right to crack down on those who would violate an otherwise worthy educational and cultural exchange.

At a time when the world is shrinking, the number of foreign exchange programs is, admirably, growing. The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency is managing visa records and other data on more than 900,000 foreign students. Similarly, more Americans are studying abroad - about 175,000 in 2003-2004 - and Goucher College in Towson is apparently the first liberal arts college in the nation to require study abroad as a condition of graduation.

In addition to promoting more cross-cultural education and understanding, foreign students in graduate programs such as engineering and the physical sciences who may receive work offers at the end of their studies are seen as helping America keep its competitive edge. But that's different from coming here to work by pretending to study.

We hope that the six Egyptian students who actually showed up at Montana State learn a lot of positive things about America and Americans from their visit to Big Sky country. And we also hope that their fellow countrymen - and others who stray from their stated purpose for coming here - learn another important lesson about sticking to the rules and paying the consequences for not doing so.

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