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Int’l students refuse to pay fee at University of Mass.

Associated Press

BOSTON — About 200 international students at the University of Massachusetts have refused to pay a new student fee, a protest that could result in dismissal from the school and loss of their student visas.

The $65-per-semester fee for foreign students was designed to compensate for cuts to the budget of the university’s international programs office. It appeared for the first time on spring-semester bills due this month.

Part of the fee will also help pay for a new federal student tracking program called the Student and Exchange Visitor Information Systems, or SEVIS, which Congress created to prevent terrorists from entering the country on student visas.

International students nationwide are required to register through the system before receiving visas.

Critics of the fee say it’s unfair to ask the 1,600 foreign students to pay for a system created to monitor them and wrong to ask only foreign students to bear the costs.

“Everyone’s scared, but I’m willing to take it as far as I can,” said George Liu, 31, a graduate student from China. “I don’t want to lose my student status, but (the fee) is an insult, because it’s so discriminatory.”

University spokesman Patrick Callahan said the budget for the international student office was cut $240,000 last year, and the new fee would provide a little over $200,000. A small amount would help track foreign students, as required by the law.

“SEVIS is mandated,” he said. “We don’t have a choice.”

The Graduate Employment Organization, a union that represents 1,000 international graduate students at the university, has urged students not to pay the fee.

The university’s Web site tells students that to remain in good standing, they must meet financial obligations by all required deadlines. The consequences could include dismissal.

Chris Vials, president of the GEO, said school administrators agreed to meet with opponents of the fee.

He said a better solution would be a $5 or $10 fee for all students.