Levin calls for visa reform

Yale University President Richard Levin outlined his new efforts to combat the current problems with the United States’ visa-granting system for international students who wish to study in America in an e-mail he sent to the Yale community Monday.

Levin, along with a group of top university presidents, representatives and trustees formed this spring, is putting pressure on the United States government to improve the visa system. In his e-mail, Levin said he is asking the Bush administration to make visas valid for the length of a student’s academic career, to allow a student with a visa to travel outside of the United States, to improve the background check process, and to make the visa renewal process more “user-friendly.”

Many students, especially graduate students and students from China, are concerned about the effects of the visa-granting process, especially since Sept. 11, 2001, when the government took measures to increase border security, Director of Yale’s Office of International Students and Scholars Ann Kuhlman said.

The visa also affects many of Yale’s peer institutions, Levin said.

“I think it’s one of the most important issues facing higher education, not just Yale,” he said. “The flow of international students is tremendously important to the strength of our universities.”

Levin’s campaign for improved visa practices is natural, considering Yale’s emphasis on internationalism and Yale’s historical ties to China, Director of Federal Relations Richard Jacob said. Chinese students make up the second largest pool of international students in the United States and are targeted most by the current visa system, he said.

“Aside from their numbers, Chinese students are referred for background checks more frequently,” Jacob said. “They account for a disproportionate amount of delays.”

In the statement, which Yale spokeswoman Helaine Klasky said was a response to students’ questions and concerns about the visa issue, Levin said there are ways to improve the visa system while still maintaining homeland security.

Jacob and University General Counsel Dorothy Robinson have already met with senior administrators at the Departments of Homeland Security and State. Jacob said the University is also sharing its concerns with members of Congress.

“The challenge before Yale and other universities is to really push hard with the [United States] administration to get them to adopt modest changes to current practices,” Jacob said.

Many international students studying in the United States have experienced extreme delays in obtaining visas and have consequently missed semesters of study or have not been permitted to leave the country to travel home, Klasky said. Some students are so discouraged by America’s visa system that they do not even apply to U.S. universities, she said.

Because international students have been discouraged from applying to America’s top universities, American students are not experiencing the full benefits of a diverse campus, Levin said. From a diplomatic perspective, Levin said international students can help strengthen ties between America and other countries.

Furthermore, many international students contribute to the American economy after they graduate from American universities, Klasky said.

“It can be detrimental to the United States if we lose this tremendous talent,” she said.

Thus far, the response from the Bush administration has been mostly favorable, Jacob said.

“It’s pretty clear that at the highest level of administration people say, ‘We get it,’” Jacob said. “I think there are still folks that we need to work with. We’re urging the administration to take the next step.”

Jacob said he remains “cautiously optimistic,” that the government will soon take action and hopes that the government will adopt some of the changes proposed by Levin and others this summer.

Kuhlman said she is pleased with the Yale administration’s efforts toward transparency.

“I think that it’s important for the international student community to know what the University is doing,” she said.

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