School has started. But I’ve already missed the orientation for first-year graduate students and the first week of classes. I’m not sure how many more weeks I’m going to miss.
Here’s my story: I am a Lebanese citizen who graduated from Yale College last May and I am supposed to be at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology right now. Last spring, I was accepted into a doctoral program in financial economics at MIT’s Sloan School of Management. Unfortunately, I can’t travel back to America and must remain in Lebanon for the time being. I applied for a new student visa at the U.S. consulate in Beirut as soon as I returned from America in June, but I still haven’t received my passport or visa.
The fact that the 19 hijackers who carried out the attacks on Sept. 11 were Arab students has made it extremely difficult for Arab males to study in the States. The only Arab males who have no problems traveling to the U.S. are the ones with American or European citizenship. Arab females only need to wait 30 days for their visas, whereas Arab males without American or European passports have to wait indefinitely. I can understand the importance of maintaining stricter border controls and greater vigilance at consulates, but the current delays at the State Department are unjustifiable.
Before Sept. 11, Arab students had no problem entering America if they could verify that they would eventually return to their homelands and if they could prove they could afford the tuition. The borders were so porous that 19 Arab terrorists had no problem entering the country.
Now, the State Department has chosen to consider citizens of 26 countries as suspicious and spends months deciding whether a student can be allowed into America. Instead of only denying suspected terrorists entry, the current visa regulations indefinitely delay legitimate students from entering America. There are thousands of students around the world who share my predicament. I question the wisdom of collective punishment applied to Arab males who want to study in America.
Frustrated, disappointed and confused, I find myself incapable of figuring out how to continue pursuing my lifelong dream of studying at a world-class graduate school. I tried everything within my power to speed up my visa application process, but so far everything has been futile. Universities are not allowed to intervene in the visa application process, so MIT and Yale could not offer me any help.
I was fortunate to run into the U.S. ambassador at a concert in August. During the intermission, I told him my story. He said there was nothing he could do to help me. Undaunted, I proceeded to send e-mails and faxes to the consulate. I also called daily. All I wanted was a time frame. I needed to know when I would receive my passport and visa so that I could make flight reservations and inform my academic advisers at MIT about my date of arrival. The consulate became so overwhelmed with my letters and phone calls that eventually the consul called me to let me know that there was nothing she could do to figure out when and if the consulate could issue me a visa.
Apparently, I have to wait for the FBI to give the State Department the green light to tell the U.S. consulate in Beirut that I am not affiliated with any terrorist organizations before the consulate can issue a visa. After more than 10 weeks, though, I can’t help but ask why it takes so long for the FBI to give me a security clearance.
Why hasn’t the FBI figured out that I am a Christian and consequently not linked to al Qaeda, Hamas or Hizbullah? Why hasn’t the FBI contacted my master, my dean, my academic adviser at the Economics Department, my boss at Alumni Records, my priest at St. Thomas More, and my professors in order to determine the real reason why I seek to return to America? Why doesn’t my status as a Yale alumnus and MIT doctoral student help dissociate me from terrorism? How much longer will the American government put my life on hold?
Right now, I’m not sure I’ll be able to start my doctoral program this semester. Because many of the courses are yearlong, it would be virtually impossible for me to start the program in the spring. To complicate matters even further, if I don’t maintain my status as a student this year, then the Lebanese army will draft me in March for 12 months. So I’d lose another academic year. Who would’ve thought that a bureaucratic delay at the State Department could stall my academic career for two years?
Fadi Kanaan graduated from Calhoun College in June 2002.