Yale chief hits at US student visa delays

PUBLISHED : Friday, 14 November, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 14 November, 2003, 12:00am

Foreign scholars need an easier entry process, says the university president

Yale University president Richard Levin says America's reluctance to issue visas following the September 11 terrorist attacks threatens to slow the entry of foreign students, including those from China, to American schools.

'In the past two years, we've had a number of Chinese students who have had to defer entry for a year' due to a delay in obtaining a visa, he said in an interview in Beijing.

'We don't want our students saying we might as well go to Britain rather than the US,' he added.

Eliminating visa barriers for foreign students has become the main policy goal in Washington for Yale and other American universities, he said.

Most of the delays occur when the Immigration and Naturalisation Service spots a student who has studied a subject, such as biochemistry, that could be applied to weapons production.

The application is forwarded to the Office of Homeland Security, where it becomes bogged down in paperwork.

'The problem is the legislation they put in place is much too broad,' the former economics professor said.

In a speech to the Yale Club of Beijing, Mr Levin outlined three areas where the current visa system for overseas students falls short.

He said new software to track foreign students living in the United States does not work well and must be improved.

The screening process is very broad, and when it rings alarm bells, applications become bogged down at the Homeland Security office, he said.

Washington was aware of the delays and was working to improve the examination process, he said.

Thirdly, students are often so concerned about the difficulties of getting into the country that they avoid returning home between semesters, causing them extra hardship, he said.

The issue is particularly important to Yale, one of America's top universities, as it has seen its foreign student population rise to 8 per cent, from 2 per cent in 1994.

Much of this increase has occurred since 2000, when the university agreed to eliminate a cap on aid for foreign students and grant them the same access to the assistance as US students. The result is that the school is more affordable.

Yale has 300 undergraduate students and 300 visiting scholars and post-doctoral candidates.

Fewer than 10 per cent of its foreign students are from China, a number likely to climb substantially in the future as the country continues to prosper economically.

Mr Levin, along with several Yale professors, including historian Jonathan Spence, visited Beijing to celebrate a Yale Day at Peking University, and broaden contacts with other Chinese universities.