Delayed visas strand students in China



While the end of winter break is a distant memory for Yalies who have already succumbed to the drudgeries of work and study, seven foreign-born graduate students await the end of vacations they have endured too long.

The students remain abroad and cannot return to Yale until the U.S. State Department and the Department of Homeland Security complete background checks required for their re-entry visas.

While the post-Sept. 11 regulations imposed on foreign students — including a $100 fee for a tracking system intended to prevent terrorists from entering the United States with student visas — have recently come under increased public scrutiny, Tom Conroy, deputy director of Yale’s Office of Public Affairs, stressed the relative infrequency of visa delays.

“The vast majority of Yale international students were able to obtain a visa in time [to return to the University],” he said in an e-mail. “Less than 1 percent of all international students and scholars — post-docs and faculty — suffered delays.”

But according to Qian Wan GRD ’06, president of the Association of Chinese Students and Scholars, delays for Chinese students are quite commonplace. Because Chinese visas expire after six months, the students must obtain re-entry visas each time they leave the United States.

“That’s probably why the vast majority of the visa delays cases impacting Yale students and scholars and known to OISS (the Office of International Students and Scholars) are Chinese nationals,” he said.

Of the seven stranded students, three are currently in China.

Qin Qin GRD ’05, chairman of the International Students Committee of the Graduate Employees and Students Organization, said the disproportionate number of Chinese students affected has caused many to be wary of going home.

“The majority of graduate students from China are afraid of going back home because [there may be] a 50 percent chance [of being] delayed with no control whatsoever,” Qin said.

OISS Associate Director Gang Wang said that although the State Department estimates background checks for re-entry visas will take about three weeks, most students “experience a long delay.”

“This makes our job tough,” Wang said. “I’ve had to tell Chinese students not to go home.”

While Wang admitted such advice is difficult to give, the consequences of returning home — and risking delay — can be dramatic. Wang mentioned one student who was stuck in China for 10 months.

“He lost his car, his belongings — everything,” Wang said. “He was supposed to interview with Harvard for an assistant professorship, but [he lost] that opportunity.”

Graduate School Dean Peter Salovey attributed the Graduate School’s 33 percent decline in Chinese applications this year in part to visa problems.

The prospect of dwindling international diversity on American campuses has prompted lobbying efforts from the Yale administration, led by President Richard Levin, who wrote an article in the Dec. 11 issue of the International Herald and Tribune calling upon the U.S. government to preserve and nurture collaborative programs with countries such as China.

Led by Qin, GESO headed student efforts to launch a national petition in September that demanded the federal government expedite visa procedures.

“This is — a crisis to universities and higher education,” Qin said. “American universities will no longer be the places where the best minds from all over the world used to [line up] to come to.

Aside from those in China, four students remain in Russia, Germany, Sweden and Canada.

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