While his classmates might shop a class or two before preparing to celebrate their first real weekend at Yale, Zhou Jun ’05 will be in Beijing today, trying to convince a U.S. consular official to allow him to leave China for New Haven. It will be his third attempt to obtain a visa.
Zhou’s problem is not unique to him — in fact, about 14 Chinese students who planned to attend Yale this year had their visa applications rejected by the U.S. consulate at least once, and Zhou and three others still have not received visas. These three — a student in the School of Management, a student in the Graduate School and a student in the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health in the School of Medicine — have been forced to defer plans to come to Yale for at least a year. Another student, Zhou Xizhou ’05, arrives today.
“That’s a kind of suspense that most of our students don’t endure,” Yale College Dean Richard Brodhead said.
Students from mainland China who were planning to attend universities across America have encountered similar difficulties in obtaining visas, although an official from the U.S. State Department said the rules are no stricter this year than in years past.
Most problems have stemmed from U.S. law, which states that students requesting visas must prove that they intend to return to their home country. In the past many Chinese students have immigrated to the U.S. once arriving here, and Ann Kuhlman, director of the Office of International Students and Scholars at Yale, said it can be difficult for a student to prove to the State Department that he will return in four years.
Lihan Sun ’05 of China was rejected July 13 when he first applied for a visa.
“They really rejected me for no reasons,” Sun said.
After the consulate officer initially questioned Sun on issues like how he would repay loans after college, she then rejected his application.
“She didn’t even give me any chance to explain it,” Sun said.
He returned two weeks later and spoke more successfully to a different officer, but only after a longer interview in which he had to explain how the consular officer could know he would return to China.
“I told him that biology is very hot in China,” Sun said of his planned major. “He was very hesitant.”
Eventually the officer granted the visa, but not all students have have been as successful in their applications as Sun was.
Cornell University is still missing perhaps as many as 20 to 40 Chinese students, said Brendan O’Brien, director of the International Students and Scholars Office at Cornell.
O’Brien said the number of absent students likely is somewhat lower, but Cornell must wait for registration statistics to confirm the actual number of students missing, and students also sometimes elect at the last minute not to come.
“Anecdotally, we have found that it’s much more difficult [this year],” O’Brien said.
Kuhlman said the problem has been substantially larger at Yale this year than it was in previous years and that Yale was not the only school that had difficulties on this front.
“There were days when you couldn’t even get through on the fax to the consulate in Beijing,” Kuhlman said.
But Christopher Lamora, a spokesman for the Bureau of Consular Affairs, said the biggest reason for more rejections simply is more requests for visas. He said that despite some rejections the U.S. is granting visas to more Chinese students than ever.
“There is no greater degree of scrutiny placed on Chinese students than on students of any other country,” Lamora said.
Kuhlman and O’Brien said the problems seem to be almost exclusively centered on accepted students from China.
Yale began to write letters in support of its students after it heard there were problems with visa applications. But the efficacy of the letters is somewhat doubtful.
“A letter from Yale doesn’t prove the student is eligible for a visa,” Lamora said.
But Kuhlman said she feels a sense of responsibility to help the students who plan to matriculate at Yale.
“I’m not going to stop writing letters,” Kuhlman said.
Yale got some help in these visa cases — Sen. Joe Lieberman ’64 wrote letters to the consulates in Beijing and Shanghai, Lieberman press secretary Kelly Moore said.
Whether or not these efforts have helped the students, 10 of the 14 students who initially had their applications denied now have visas.
Today’s hearing will determine whether Zhou can join his classmates at Yale this fall or not, and Brodhead said he hoped to hear news of a successful outcome when he walks into the dean’s office this morning.
“I’m hoping to have a message about it,” Brodhead said.