Getting visas present foreign students with hardships

by Elizabeth Dunbar

International students who wish to study at the University must follow three steps: be admitted to a program, get a student visa and arrive in the United States. But this year, many are still stuck on the second step.

“There’s a heightened level of scrutiny after Sept. 11, which translates into additional delays and pretty harsh obstacles,” said Luis Bartolomei, University Student Legal Service immigration attorney.

“Many of our students have not yet arrived,” said Kay Thomas, International Student and Scholar Services director.

The delays concern the University because of international graduate students’ high numbers, said Andrea Scott, graduate admissions director.

Bartolomei said the increased scrutiny might have negative consequences for the University.

“What will happen is that these international students will start going other places,” he said.

According to the University’s Office of Institutional Research and Reporting, 1,856 of the 2,475 international students enrolled on the Twin Cities campus in spring 2002 were graduate students.

Bartolomei said as a research institution, the University needs to be concerned about international students’ treatment.

“The way we treat these very bright students that contribute so much to us will have an effect on research institutions to have premium research,” he said.

Diane Trager, math department secretary, said there are three graduate students that haven’t arrived for their fall semester programs.

A student from Pakistan was finally cleared, but students from Iran and China, whose visas were still pending, will probably have to defer their programs until spring semester, Trager said.

“One thing that happens is that it makes us scramble for (teaching assistants),” said Judy Soine, secretary for the physics and astronomy department.

Scott said these delays have hurt enrollment in some of the science departments, but not all graduate programs have been affected by such delays.

Julie Harrold, Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs program director, said all of the students whose programs were funded received visas, saying there weren’t major differences from last year.

“I was pleasantly surprised,” she said. “I didn’t know what would happen this year.”

Salvador Rocha-Blumenkron, an architecture graduate student from Mexico, had to return to Mexico to change his visa status.

“After Sept. 11, the embassy in Mexico was closed for a while and I couldn’t get a student visa,” he said. Rocha-Blumenkron said he came to the United States with a tourist visa, hoping to change his status upon arrival.

He said Immigration and Naturalization Service officials made him go back to Mexico even though he was accepted in a program.

“I don’t think I would have had any problems before Sept. 11,” Rocha-Blumenkron said.

A Morrocan student at the Minnesota International Student Association gathering Friday evening said he was still waiting to hear from the INS regarding his requested visa status change from a J-1 exchange visitor to an F-1 student visa.

Each status allows the person to remain in the country for the length of their academic program, but with an exchange visitor status, at least 50 percent of total expenses must be paid for by an institution, employer or the government.

The student, who asked not to be named because of the pending case, said the process would have taken a few weeks last year, but now it could take up to four months.

If he doesn’t get his status changed by Oct. 1, the student said his tuition will increase. But if he doesn’t get the status change by the end of October he will face even harsher consequences.

“If I don’t get it by the end of October, my research assistantship will be canceled and I will have to go back,” he said.

Bartolomei said the growing number of delays could affect future relations with other countries.

“These students will take the flavor they got here and that will affect diplomacy in the future,” he said. “They should not feel persecuted by our government.”

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