The U.S. State Department’s latest visa policy change may allow some foreign students and scientists at Yale to remain in the United States for a longer period of time without having to reapply for security clearance.

The new policy will affect foreigners working in what the government characterized as “sensitive” scientific and technical fields. Current visa granting procedures, established in 1998 with the Visa Mantis program, require both extra and annual security clearance for these individuals. But under the revised program, for which the University and members of the Graduate Employees and Students Organization have lobbied, the clearance will last for as many as four years for students and two years for working scientists and postdoctoral fellows.

Government agencies have been altering the visa granting process for foreign students since last May, when Yale President Richard Levin and top administrators from other universities began pressuring the Bush administration to reform the policy.

The new policy is a significant step in reducing the burden international students face in renewing their visas, Levin said. The Yale president said the situation for international students is more favorable and welcoming, much like it was before the USA PATRIOT Act was passed in 2001.

“This is a major step forward and is one of the areas of immigration policy that we’ve put at the top of our list over the last six or eight months,” Levin said. “I’m very pleased to see it got resolved.”

Levin has made visa reform advocacy a priority during the past year, raising the issue with top officials in the U.S. government including former Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge, who visited campus to detail visa changes last October.

Yale Director of Federal Relations Richard Jacob said Levin’s tenacity has helped keep government officials aware of concerns in the educational community.

“Rick has been very persistent and has been hammering away on these issues,” Jacob said.

GESO Secretary-Treasurer Cong Huang GRD ’09 said he is pleased with Yale’s lobbying efforts in Washington and thinks University officials have been more responsive to students’ concerns over the past year. Since 2003, GESO has been lobbying the U.S. Congress on its own for visa reform through union lawyers in conjunction with graduate student organizations at around 40 other universities, he said.

“This is very exciting news for international students,” Huang said. “I think Yale did great and we’ve seen a change in attitude from the University over the past year.”

U.S. Rep. Chris Cannon, a Republican from Utah who has met with GESO representatives to discuss the visa issue, has said GESO members have played key roles in organizing graduate students across the nation to campaign for reform U.S. visa policies.

“GESO in particular has taken an important leadership role in building a nationwide network of concerned graduate students,” Cannon said in a letter to the group last October.

Jianye Lu GRD ’09, who has applied for Visa Mantis clearance twice since 2003, said he is pleased with the most recent visa policy change. But he added that the government should go further by extending the clearance beyond four years.

“I don’t think four years is enough for all students,” Lu said. “I do think it’s better than the old policy, but I think it should be as long as the study time in the U.S. I think that would make the policy even better for us.”

In the past year, government agencies have decreased students’ waiting period for background checks and given foreign students priority for visa interviews. But the University is still pushing for the government to extend the validity of visas beyond six months for Chinese students, Yale officials said.