Foreign students discuss visa problems

After Rong Xiang GRD ’05 got married in his native China last March, he found himself on an extended honeymoon due to a visa delay.

“I had to stay in China for six months rather than three weeks,” Xiang said. “My honeymoon turned into an odyssey.”

About 80 international students, teaching assistants and researchers met Thursday at Dunham Lab to discuss visa reform in a meeting organized by the Graduate Students and Employees Organization. Sixteen students delivered short prepared speeches about their troubles with the visa process.

Regulations instituted after Sept. 11, 2001 have slowed the visa process, making it difficult for foreign nationals studying in the United States to return to their universities after they have left the country.

The speakers expressed both professional and personal frustrations they have faced because of visa uncertainty. Several teaching and research assistants said they have been unable to leave the United States to visit family or attend conferences pertinent to their fields because their ability to re-enter the country is not secure.

Moderator Qin Qin GRD ’05, a biomedical engineering student, said University President Richard Levin, Graduate School Dean Peter Salovey, and University Secretary Linda Lorimer were invited to the event. None were present at the event Thursday.

Yale spokeswoman Helaine Klasky said Levin has been working on the issue “through the back channels in Washington.”

Rachel Sulkes GRD ’01, a former GESO chairwoman who is still active in the group, said although Levin wrote an opinion piece about the problem in the International Herald Tribune, she wishes he would be more open in his support of visa reform.

“We’re trying to get him to agree to lobby with us in Congress,” Sulkes said.

Princeton University President Shirley Tilghman spoke last March about problems visa delays create before the House Committee on Science.

Klasky said Levin considers visa delays troubling because they could deter potential international applicants.

“It’s a very big issue to him that he’s very concerned with,” Klasky said.

Xiang also said he thinks international students contribute to the Yale community.

“International applications last year dropped,” he said. “They missed a lot of intelligent students.”

Xiang, who is a teaching assistant and a research assistant and studies chemical engineering, said he had to cancel some of his classes because he was delayed in China. He also said his being stranded abroad kept him away from his National Institute of Health-funded research team and prevented him from writing a grant proposal.

Masha SalazkinaÊGRD ’04, who has been pursuing a degree in Film Studies and Slavic Languages and Literatures for seven years, said inability to return to her native Russia has complicated her academic career. She said because her specialty is international and comparative in nature, she needs to conduct research outside of the United States. Salazkina said she has not yet found a job because she cannot go to job interviews conducted in other countries. She also said the visa problem has caused her to grow distant from her family and friends.

“I’ve missed family funerals,” she said.

Jianye Lu GRD ’08, a student of computer science, said that even though he thinks the visa process is mired in bureaucratic problems, Yale should take a more active role in smoothing international students’ experience.

“There’s no reason checking on a regular international student should take a year,” Lu said. “Yale should prepare materials far in advance.”

During the meeting, a petition urging Yale to work to improve international students’ problems with visas was circulated and signed.

Over half of the scheduled speakers were from China; several others were from Russian and Middle Eastern countries such as Iran. Most of the graduate students who spoke at the event were seeking doctorates in sciences, but several students of the social sciences and humanities also spoke.

Many international researchers and students, including the 80 gathered at Thursday’s meeting, are pushing for University action to improve the government’s student visa process.
Alexander White
Many international researchers and students, including the 80 gathered at Thursday’s meeting, are pushing for University action to improve the government’s student visa process.

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