28-year-old Wais Wardak has needed three visas to travel between UConn and his home in Afghanistan.
Editor's note: We have agreed to identify two of the students in this story by first names only. They are concerned about jeopardizing their visa status.
It will take her four to six years to complete her Ph.D. in biology at the University of Connecticut, but 25-year-old Maryam said she won't visit her family in Iran until she is done. Unlike students from countries that have friendly relations with the U.S., Maryam's student visa allows her to enter the U.S. only once. If she leaves, even for a short vacation, she has to apply for a new visa. Maryam does not want to risk being delayed by security checks, or denied entry. It took her six months to get her visa because her first application was rejected. When she arrived in Storrs in January, she had already missed her first semester.
Robert Chudy, director of UConn's Department of International Services and Programs, says Maryam's case is not unusual. Many students eventually pass security checks, but not in time to arrive for their first scheduled semester.
It is hard for students from some countries to obtain visas to study in America because of conflicts in the international political arena, he said. "Look at what is happening. Is Iran fighting America now? Everything is connected. What you read in the newspaper impacts who gets a visa."
Although the U.S. State Department says it does not have specific policies in place to make it harder for students from Muslim countries to get student visas, Chudy said that that the "war on terror" is a major factor in student visa approvals.
"The embassy officer has five minutes to determine whether you are a real student or you are a terrorist," he said. Consular officers conduct five- to 10-minute interviews with applicants, and can be held responsible for the actions of the people they approve if the person commits a crime in the U.S. As a result, Chudy said, they are less likely to admit students that come from countries perceived to have bad feelings about the U.S.
Because of post-Sept. 11 tightened security, some UConn students from Muslim countries struggle with delays in their education because the visa process takes so long, according to three graduate students from Iran, Afghanistan and Yemen. The difficulty of obtaining a visa also reinforces a commonly held perception among students from Muslim countries that Americans do not want them, they said.
Occasionally, students are accepted to UConn and denied entry into the U.S., according to Chudy, but delays in the visa process are more common.