Visa problems still prevent some from attending U

by Elizabeth Dunbar

International students who were forced to defer their admission to the University because of visa delays last fall did not have much more luck this spring.

Several professors and department heads said last fall they hoped students who could not get visas in time would arrive for the start of the spring semester instead.

But three weeks into the semester, the same faculty members said most of those students did not show up for spring classes either.

“Pretty much the same thing happened this spring,” said John Gardner, a mechanical engineering adviser.

Gardner said students from China had the most difficulty – several were denied a visa for the second time.

“There’s too close of a window for them to arrange for another (visa) interview,” Gardner said, explaining why the students could not arrive for spring semester.

“We’ve had some students that have been denied for more than three semesters,” said Georganne Tolaas, a secretary for the computer science graduate program.

James Kakalios, director of graduate studies in the physics department, said the three or four students who had difficulties getting a student visa last fall did not arrive this spring.

But arriving in the spring would be more difficult, Kakalios said, because special English as a second language classes and training for teaching assistants are offered only in the fall.

Kakalios said he hopes to retain some of the stranded students next fall.

“If they applied to a graduate program and were offered financial aid, that offer is still good if they arrive next fall,” Kakalios said.

However, not all graduate programs are willing to wait for the U.S. Department of State to give admitted students visas.

Gary Balas, Control Science and Dynamical Systems co-director, said an Indonesian student’s assistantship was canceled after he was denied a student visa.

“He couldn’t get a visa, so we had to offer it to someone else,” Balas said.

Hendra Nurdin, the student who was supposed to work with Balas, said he thinks his visa process was delayed because of new security procedures.

The procedures included an automatic delay for students from countries the United States has labeled as “state sponsors of terrorism.”

Though Indonesia is not on the list, Nurdin said his country was on a different list with similar delays.

International student advisers at the University and across the country noticed that male students from the Middle East, China and Indonesia who studied science and engineering had the most difficulty getting visas.

Kay Thomas, International Student and Scholar Services director, said it’s unclear exactly how many of the 117 new international students at the University this spring tried coming in the fall.

Many of the Malaysian students arrived this spring after difficulties last fall, she said.

Nurdin said visa difficulties turned his educational plans around.

“The visa fiasco put my life in a state of chaos since I did not anticipate that I would not receive my visa after 30 days,” Nurdin said. “I did not have any contingency plan, so I was stuck at home with nothing to do.”

After losing his assistantship at the University, Nurdin said he hopes to pursue study in the Netherlands or the United States.

“The process will take time,” he said. “There is always the very real possibility that I may not get a visa yet again.”

Elizabeth Dunbar covers international affairs and welcomes comments at [email protected]