Three foreign students admitted to the class of 2006 are finally beginning their freshman year at Yale after delays last year prevented them from obtaining visas before the start of school.
Ahmed Makani of Karachi, Pakistan, and Brian Ong of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, joined the class of 2007 this fall after visa problems prevented them from attending Yale last year. Their journeys to Yale were delayed in part because of increased border security procedures following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, but Ann Kuhlman, director of the Office of International Students and Scholars, said the system appears to be working more smoothly.
No Yale freshmen were prevented from matriculating this year because of visa problems, Kuhlman said, although international students at other U.S. schools were not as fortunate. A Chinese student who was supposed to begin her freshman year at Princeton University this year was denied a visa by American officials in Beijing, the Daily Princetonian reported Aug. 27.
“Now that they were in the second year of doing this, the delays were not nearly as lengthy as the first year,” Kuhlman said.
A third student whose matriculation was delayed, Abdullah Khan, could not be reached for comment. Khan is from Pakistan.
Makani said he applied for his visa at the end of May 2002 but did not receive it until April 2003.
“Every day I just thought that perhaps my call will come tomorrow, perhaps it will come the day after tomorrow,” he said. “Most of the other guys, they got their calls in time to join in the fall or join in the spring.”
During the year he had at home, Makani studied physics on his own because he did not have a background in science and wanted to be prepared for Yale’s Group IV distributional group requirement. He also studied economics and math, and he spent time with his family.
Ong said he received his visa to leave Malaysia to study at Yale a week into last fall’s shopping period, too late to join his classmates. The delay was caused by laws implemented last year that require applications to be sent to the United States and then back to Malaysia, which took considerably more time. In addition, he was not permitted to apply for his visa more than three months in advance, a rule that was lifted this year.
“Dean [of Student Affairs Betty] Trachtenberg wouldn’t let me come because she said, ‘You have missed out on too much and probably couldn’t catch up,'” he said.
Ong said when he found out he would not be attending Yale last year, he started an educational youth magazine with some friends who also had not yet received their visas. Most of them began school in January, however, leaving him with too much work to sustain the magazine.
He then decided to travel, visiting India, the United Kingdom, Italy, France and Australia, before returning home to take a few courses, such as art history and finance, at a local college. He also earned a diploma in piano performance and read many books in preparation for his freshman year.
“The great thing about Yale is even before I got here I got such a sense of pride for the institution,” he said. “I wanted to make myself worthy of being at this institution.”
Makani said there are many rumors about how the clearance process works and about why it can be so slow, but he said he could not be sure what is true. Some in Pakistan say that immigration officials are suspicious that people who receive financial aid will not actually be able to afford to go school and will instead work illegally, he said.
“I heard the FBI is involved — they make a file of every person,” he said. “Usually people who have been traveling to the USA do not have problems. I had never traveled abroad to any other country, so perhaps this was one reason they were investigating.”
Understaffing at the consulate’s office, including the closure of the Karachi consulate, probably contributed to the delay in gaining clearance for his visa, Makani said. In his case, Makani traveled 20 hours by train to the Islamabad consulate to interview for clearance, only to have the officer say that he did not actually need an interview and would receive his visa by August. But in August, he received a letter saying that his request would take an indefinite period of time and that he should wait to be contacted.
Despite the difficulties, Ong said he tries to be understanding of the U.S. government’s rules for foreign students.
“I think it’s the price I have to pay for coming here,” he said. “I do understand [the United States’] security concerns, although at times it seems like a discriminatory thing.”
Ong and Makani both said Yale OISS employees have been supportive and continue to help them. Kuhlman and Assistant Director Monica Weeks have offered to drive them to the INS interview required after they have spent 30 days in the United States.
Kuhlman said she hoped next year’s visa application process will be more efficient and students will not encounter problems coming to Yale.
“Based on our experience this summer, I’m encouraged that the process is actually moving forward at a rate that allows students to get their visas,” she said. “We would hope that it only becomes more streamlined.”