Friday, June 18, 2004

Visa Problems Continue

Wisconsin Professor Dieter van Melkebeek has a paper at the ICALP conference but cannot go to Finland to present it. Why not? Delayed processing of his green card application has led to problems with his current visa putting him in some temporary state of visa hell. Dieter would actually have no trouble attending ICALP; he would just have problems coming back.

Dieter is one of many stories of people changing travel plans and missing conferences because of America's tougher requirements and slower processing of foreign immigration applications. An Indian graduate student with a paper at next week's Complexity conference could not get a visa in time. I would not be surprised if many graduate students will not start the fall semester on time awaiting my government's blessing to come to study here.

This is a story I have told before and will likely tell again. I understand the need for security but most scientific progress happens through collaboration and preventing or delaying this collaboration holds back the advancement of knowledge. Not since the 80's have we seen such a limitation on traveling though this time in reverse. During the cold war several countries would not let many of their best scientists out; these days we don't allow many of the world's best scientists in.


  1. I would think that you, of all people, would better understand the dynamics of our world. Perhaps, rather than simply complaining, you could devise a process by which security can be upheld, our Country can remain solid and productive, the people can be happy, and Indian Graduate Students can present their papers.

  2. And Indian researcher at IIT Delhi could not get
    a visa in time to attend STOC this past week.
    This particular researcher had been living in the
    US till recently but they still wanted to do
    an extensive check that would take a month!

  3. > And Indian researcher at IIT Delhi could not get
    > a visa in time to attend STOC this past week.

    What does this even mean? One finds an upper bound, x, on the time it could take to get a visa and they start working towards getting one at time t-x, where t is the time at which they want their visa.

  4. The problem is that the current visa processing routines do not guarantee any upper bound on the time it may take to get a visa; the visa is supposed to be ready normally around 1 or 2 months after one is accepted in the visa interview, but I have seen numerous cases which has taken up to 6 months and even more. (My statistics are based on Iranians who have applied for a US student visa.)

    Moreover, the processing time has increased to the extent that even if one starts applying for the visa as soon as she is eligible to do so (e.g. as soon as she is admitted to a US school and has been issued an I-20 document, or her paper has been accepted to a conference and has registered for the conference), there are high chances that she does not receive a visa in time.

  5. *sigh* I think it's another example of how short-sightedness leads to throwing out the baby with the bath water. In a time when immigration should be pumping stronger than ever, America is going in the reverse direction.

    And the comparison to the cold war is apt!