Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Foreign Student Visa Process Clumsy and Cumbersome, Educators Say

Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Foreign Student Visa Process Clumsy and Cumbersome, Educators Say

Article excerpt

Visa requirements imposed on foreign students since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks are confusing, redundant and causing more problems than they solve, witnesses appearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee said last month. They noted that if current policy trends continue, many students--particularly those from Middle Eastern countries--may still be waiting for visa approval in their countries of origin even after their academic programs have begun in the United States.

Controls put in place since Sept. 11, 2001, have been done on a mostly piecemeal basis, according to Marlene M. Johnson, executive director of NAFSA, the Association of International Educators.

"In their totality, they are now hindering international student and scholar access to the United States, to an extent that itself threatens our security," Johnson said.

Because new guidelines from the U.S. Department of State have required U.S. Consulate officials to scrutinize student visas more carefully, through both personal interviews and security checks, what was once a fairly routine process has become, according to many, a cumbersome and time-consuming ordeal frustrating both consulate employees and students.

"Today, far too many scarce human resources are wasted on routine reviews of low-risk visa applications," Johnson said. "This particularly affects scientists and people from Arab and Muslim countries. Both of these populations are subjected indiscriminately to special reviews. Repetitive, redundant reviews, particularly of well-known people, clog the system, frustrate applicants and detract from our ability to focus our attention where it is really needed."

Noting that there were more than 586,000 international students studying in the United States last year, Dr. Allan E. Goodman, president of the Institute of International Education, contended that because of the new visa restrictions, "consular staff at each U.S. embassy is thinly stretched."

"They need to assure that their procedures facilitate the handling of visa applicants expeditiously and respectfully, despite heavy caseloads and increased screening requirements," continued Goodman, who added: "This would send the most important signal that our doors are open to legitimate students from abroad. …

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