After negotiating this summer with the U.S. government, Yale administrators said the speed and quality of the nation’s visa-granting process has improved, smoothing this fall’s entry of international students into the country. But two University students remain stranded, without the ability to enter the country and begin their studies.
Yale President Richard Levin, who led the campaign to better the visa system, said the State Department increased efficiency in granting visa interviews to scholars. While barriers still exist for international students, especially Chinese students attempting to obtain visas in a timely fashion, Levin said he was encouraged by recent developments resulting from University discussions with the government.
“There have been improvements, and efforts to get responsiveness in Washington have been successful,” Levin said.
The efforts of Levin and other University officials were critical in enacting change in the government visa policy, said Richard Jacob, associate vice president for the University’s Federal Relations Office of General Counsel.
“Our consistent expression of concerns really impressed upon the [Bush] administration, and we think it has worked better this year,” Jacob said. “It is clearly an issue where Yale has been leading.”
The increased efficiency of the visa-granting process is in part due to the State Department’s accommodating students and scholars by granting them preference in scheduling visa interviews and by hiring more employees to conduct these interviews, Jacob said. The State Department has also increased the openness of communication between the government and universities, often stepping in on behalf of the university to eliminate bureaucratic obstacles, Jacob said.
“The State Department has improved its own ability,” he said. “There’s a greater attention to conducting these reviews with dispatch and there is more openness in the process.”
Ann Kuhlman, director of the Office of International Students and Scholars, said this year the visa-granting process of Yale international students was noticeably smoother. She said she attributes this change to the efforts of the University and the responsiveness of the State Department.
“I think the administration, State Department and Department of Homeland Security are listening very carefully to the concerns of higher education,” Kuhlman said.
But Kuhlman said two Yale graduate students still lack the visas they need to enter the country and begin their studies. The improved visa system is not yet the ideal system administrators hope to see in the future, Jacob said.
“There are still some areas where we’re hoping to get further changed,” Levin said.
Issues the administration continues to advocate for include: increasing the length of time for which a visa is valid, increasing the number of trips an international student can make in and out of the country, and improving the visa renewal process.
An area of particular concern is the visa arrangement between the United States and China, Jacob said. While Chinese students make up the second highest percentage of international students in the United States, the Chinese experience the least accommodating visa regulations, he said. Levin said he is pushing both the Chinese government and the United States government to reevaluate and change the current visa terms.
“China’s [visa terms] are on par with Cuba and Libia, countries with which we don’t have such substantial academic exchanges,” Jacob said.
Xin Ma ’06, a student from Shanghai, China, said undergraduates have an easier time obtaining visas than graduate students.
“I have heard bad stories about graduate students who need a background check and that can last half a year and they can’t make the semester,” Ma said. “A lot of people don’t go home during holiday, just in case.”
When Ma was accepted to Yale, officers of the University contacted the consulate at Shanghai to expedite her visa process.
“I think Yale has been supportive,” Ma said.
Kuhlmann said she is optimistic about future attempts to improve upon the visa system and about the government granting access to the two graduate students waiting to start their studies.
“My fingers are crossed,” Kuhlman said.