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New Visa Reviews for Arriving Students

WASHINGTON - Border agents have been ordered to verify that every international student who enters the U.S. has a valid student visa.  This order, "effective immediately," comes from the Homeland Security Department according to a memorandum obtained today by the Associated Press. The new procedure is the government's first security change directly related to the Boston Bombings.

The order which came from senior official at U.S. Customs and Border Protection, David J. Murphy, was circulated yesterday and came one day after the Obama administration acknowledged that a student from Kazakhstan, accused of hiding evidence for one of the Boston bombing suspects was allowed to return to the U.S. in January without a valid student visa.

Azamat Tazhayakov, a friend and classmate of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, was academically dismissed from The University of Massachusetts Dartmouth in December at which time his student visa was terminated, but the border agent in the airport did not have access to that information in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS.)

He and a second Kazakh student were arrested this week on federal charges of obstruction of justice.  A third student was also arrested and accused of lying to authorities.

A spokesman for the department, Peter Boogaard, said earlier this week that the government was working to fix the problem, which allowed Tazhayakov to be admitted into the country when he returned to the U.S.

Yesterday, Senator Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, asked Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano for details from the student visa applications of the three boys implicated in helping Tsarnaev after the bombings, including information on how Tazhayakov re-entered the U.S.

Authorities have long been concerned about terrorists exploiting the student visa system to travel into the United States. A student from Saudi Arabia was arrested in Texas in 2011 on federal charges of attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction.  He was later convicted and sentenced to life in prison.

Under current procedures, border agents could verify a student's status in SEVIS only when the person was referred to a second officer for additional inspection or questioning. Tazhayakov was not sent to a second officer when he arrived. Under the new procedures, all border agents were expected to be able to access SEVIS by next week.

Copyright 2013 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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