The FBI and U.S. Immigration and Custom's Enforcement alerted intelligence agencies and state and local law enforcement this week about 11 Egyptian students who failed to report to their classes at Montana State University after they entered the country last month.
The 11 students entered the United States through New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport on July 29, 2006, but have failed to arrive at MSU, where they were scheduled to take English and other academic courses as part of an exchange program with Mansoura University, which is located in Alexandria, Egypt.
"The FBI and ICE would like to locate these 11 students in order to speak with them," FBI spokesman Richard Kolko said in a statement released Monday. "At this point all they have done is not show up for a scheduled academic program and their student visas have been revoked."
The students are required to register with the university under ICE's Student and Exchange Visitor Program, which was set up after the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, to make sure that only legitimate foreign students are granted entry into the United States. Law enforcement and immigration officials envisioned the program shortly after the 9/11 attacks and have required schools and exchange programs to use the system since February 2003.
Several of the 9/11 hijackers had listed their occupations as "student" on their visa forms, but only hijacker pilot Hani Hanjour had applied for a student visa. On his visa application, which was released by the 9/11 Commission, Hanjour never listed what university or college he would be attending; the SEVP was meant to fill this gap in security.
Since the program has been up and running, more than 10,300 schools and universities have participated in it, with more than 1 million foreign exchange visitors and students registering. ICE has generated 7,600 leads on potential student visa violations since the program began in 2003, and ICE has arrested more than 1,800 individuals for visa violations under the program.
Despite initial problems in coordinating reporting requirements to DHS, homeland security experts believe the system is now working effectively.
"[It] now appears to be functioning quite well in helping track those foreigners in the United States on student visas," Brookings Institution senior fellow Michael O'Hanlon said in recent congressional testimony. "Those who overstay visas can be more quickly identified and located."
According to the FBI's bulletin, which was distributed to law enforcement agencies and U.S. intelligence officials, out of the 20 applicants in the exchange program, three students were denied a U.S. visa for unknown reasons, six students have arrived at the University of Montana, and the other 11 have yet to arrive.
FBI and Homeland Security officials said the individuals are not believed to pose a threat but are in violation of their visas for failing to report to the listed destination as part of the exchange program.
The Egyptian Embassy in Washington did not return calls from ABC News about the student's whereabouts and visa status.
Although the FBI and ICE have issued a nationwide "Be On the Lookout" or BOLO alert, the FBI does not believe the missing students are associated with any terrorist group or threat.
"The FBI and ICE, along with the state and local police, continue to work to locate and interview these students. This remains an active investigation. There is no threat associated with these students," Kolko said.
In an interview with ABC News, Norman Peterson, director of the Office of International Programs at the Montana State University said, "We are very anxious to get to the bottom of this situation, to find out where the students are and what they are doing."