Tougher rules decrease student visas

Editor’s Note: Stories from international students were obtained from responses to a mass email forwarded by the International Center.

Last year, enrollment of all foreign students in U.S. undergraduate, graduate and postdoctoral programs fell for the first time in three decades, according to an annual census released in the fall.

U.S. officials confirmed that tighter security measures implemented by the U.S. Congress and the immigration authorities following Sept. 11, 2001, caused the significant decrease of international students in the United States.

“The number of people applying for all types of visas after 9/11 dropped significantly,” said Janice Jacobs, deputy assistant secretary for visa affairs from the Department of the State.

The tougher regulations on student visas came after Hani Hanjour, a 9/11 hijacker, entered the United States on a student visa. First, Hanjour never attended school, then piloted a plane into the Pentagon, killing about 200 people. In March of 2002, six months after 9/11, the government discovered two other hijackers-Mohammed Atta and Marwan al-Shehhi-were also in the U.S. on student visas.

After years of a steadily rising international enrollment, the U’s numbers began to slow from 2002 to 2003, then decreased by 134 students between 2003 and 2004.

While the United States has lost students, other countries like Germany and France have seen surges in their international student enrollment, according to The New York Times.

U students’ struggles

Sutra Tarigan planned to attend the U in the fall of 2003, but had to wait until the spring of 2004 due to a delay in the new visa process, which Tarigan called a “nightmare.”

Tarigan is from Indonesia, one of the countries on a blacklist of 25 locations that need to go through a special administrative process before one may obtain clearance for a student visa.

Though Indonesia is not located in the Middle East like many of the blacklisted countries, the nation is scrutinized because of the prominence of Islam, said U student Young-min Jang.

Weejung Ahn, a Korean student, said student visas have become difficult to obtain in her home country since 9/11 and added that most students need parents with prestigious jobs to meet financial qualifications. Thanks to her husband’s father, a professor at a prestigious university in Korea, Ahn and her husband were both able to qualify.

In addition to proving financial status and clearing several other regulations, students must show they will return to their home countries when they finish studying in the United States.

“I applied for a visa twice in one year and both of them were denied,” said U student Huilan Lin, a Chinese student in the molecular biology program. “It was because they don’t believe I will come back to China when I finish [studying] in the U.S.A.”

Several other students said they had to apply multiple times because their visas were refused for “unknown reasons.”

U student Oluwatoroti Olusanya, who arrived from Nigeria just three weeks ago, said he was originally denied a visa, and added he knows somebody who was refused on three different occasions before she got her student visa.

“I was supposed to have been around since the Fall Semester, but I was refused a visa for no known reason at the American embassy at Nigeria,” Olusanya said. “I couldn’t believe my ears when I heard the Consular Officer say, ‘Sorry, you are not eligible for a visa.”

Other U students said it is harder to get into the United States because of the high demand to study here, not simply because of new post-9/11 restrictions.

“I had to wait for a long time-over a month-to get an appointment with the U.S. embassy in India,” said Vishal Duriseti, an international student studying metallurgical engineering. “Back there, there are so many students trying to pursue masters in the U.S.A. that all the available slots get booked well in advance.”

Bill Barnhart, director of the U’s International Center, said eight to 10 U students returning to their home countries on vacation, were stuck overseas for as many as eight months while their visas were scrutinized and renewed.

Some students said the changes have not made the process any more difficult.

“It was a piece of cake for me,” said Kunal Gangwal, a U student from India. “Just a two-minute interview…I didn’t feel at all that the visa process has become difficult.”

Ulrike Ott, a student from Germany, agreed.

“I have had no trouble getting my visa in Berlin,” he said. “The only thing that bothered me was the immigration officer in Chicago. He ignored me…then told me that he never liked Germans anyway.”

The projected future of

international enrollment

Despite the recent decline, experts are confident enrollment numbers will rebound and international students will once again flock to the United States.

“We are finally turning the corner after 9/11 and are starting to see again an increase in numbers,” Jacobs said. “The numbers are much smaller than they were before 9/11…but they are, for the first time, starting to go up again.”

Barnhart agreed, though he warned the potential rise would not likely occur in smaller institutions.

“There are indications that the situation won’t get any worse for us, and it may in fact improve,” he said. “Visas are actually going back up now.”

Barnhart added the U is working on recruiting international students from Latin America and hopes to work with Africa as well.

Some international students who have had to wait longer and pay more money remain hopeful the new processes in obtaining student visas will benefit the United States.

“I believe this is good for America,” said U student Sachiko Kato from Japan. “They need to make sure [there is] strong security for the U.S. citizens and also us.”

Others disagree.

“I think there are still measures the American government can take to balance security and communication with countries better,” said Liang Qiao, vice-president of the Chinese Student and Scholar Association at the U. “I believe the best defense is not just to shut the door.”

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