Door closing on foreign students

Due to increased security measures, students from around the globe are having difficulty securing visas that would allow them to attend school here in the United States.

"It is a national trend," said Christina Luther, assistant director of the Department of International Education Services. In her role as assistant director, Luther comes in contact with many students abroad hoping to come to Portland State, many of whom, she said, are "having an increasingly difficult time securing visas."

Effective August 2003, interviews with U.S. consulate officials became mandatory to all foreign students planning to go to school in the United States. Prior to that date, consulate officials, under the Department of State, declined interview most applicants. Now, the Department of State has no discretionary power and all applicants must be interviewed.

This new mandate proved problematic for students who remained uninformed in the face of the impending policy change. Moreover, a lack in consulate resources insured that many students would be waiting for months, even years, to get an interview.

One such student (who asked to be identified only as "Fion" for the purposes of this article) had her visa renewal application denied in September, even though she was approved the first three times.

Fion, a junior at PSU, had planned to come back and finish her undergraduate degree after taking the summer off to visit her home in Suzhou, China.

Now, because of the setback, Fion said she would have to put off graduation for three to six months.

"I am kind of disappointed in the U.S. Consulate," Fion said, after her interview got bumped to November. "As the result of it, I am losing this term in PSU."

On top of demonstrating non-immigrant potential, visa applicants must also show that they do not intend to harm the country.

This portion of the application process takes place, for the most part, outside the interview, in a background check that can amount to a lengthy wait for students.

"There is nothing you can do while that security check is pending but wait," Luther said.

Although the problem has "flattened out over the year," Luther said, international students continue to wait for an available interview.

"A lot of students didn’t come fall term because they couldn’t make an appointment," Luther said, citing a Saudi student who has waited 11 months for his interview.

In order to attain a non-immigrant visa, students must first convince the U.S. Consulate that they do not intend to immigrate into the United States. To do this, according to Luther, they must prove "they have non-significant ties here," meaning that international students with significant personal relationships or employment prospects could well be denied.

Fearing further visa complications, international students are discouraged from leaving the country to visit their homes, thereby shutting them off from their homeland while strengthening ties here.

"It pretty severely restricts the mobility that international students have in respect to going home for vacation," Luther said.