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STUDENT VISAS

Delayed Processing For Science Majors From Certain Countries

By: Bailey Cummings


There is no better excuse for missing class than, "Sorry, the U.S. embassy held my passport for a week."


International students at UAlbany are noticing a trend: if you’re from a certain country and studying a certain field- your Visa may be delayed due to U.S. security measures.


Michael Elliott, director of International Student and Scholar Services, says his department has seen some differences in processing visas in recent years.


“There’s been a difference in both speed and number of denials,” Elliott says. “[This year] there were some delays, there were some denials. Delays can be something where the government doesn’t actually have to change the policies, they just change the procedures.”


Wen Sun, a senior from China studying journalism, said that her visa application process has gone smoothly the past three years she has been in the U.S. But, she says your field of study can impact how long the process takes.


“[The process] depends on your major,” says Sun. “If you have some major like physiology or chemistry, you will have problems with the visa.”


Cat Pham, an international student from Vietnam who is studying bioinstrumentation, an application of biomedical engineering, agrees with Sun. Pham ran into issues extending his visa after studying in the U.S. for two years and then studying abroad in Australia.


Cat Pham, an international student from Vietnam, is currently studying at UAlbany. (Bailey Cummings / ASP)

“My problem is I went to Australia as part of the exchange program last semester,” Pham says. “And then I got back to Vietnam in August. Then, I had to do a visa extension because it was out of date. The whole process was long. They kept my passport for seven or eight days.”


Pham has to continuously reapply for the Visa.


“The program here is five years,” Pham says. “And the visa only extends for a year.”


Elliott detailed why returning students just like Pham may face delays in visa processing.


“Some students can sit in administrative processing for a long time,” Elliott says. “That can cause a student to not make the entry date deadline for the paperwork we give them.”


Because of these complications, there is a grace period for international students.


“We start school on the 26th, they can arrive thirty days before that or thirty days after,” Elliott says. “That’s the rules of the Department of Homeland Security. So, these students can enter during that time frame but if they’re in administrative processing, after that thirty days, they’re going to have a problem.”


The question remains: is it true that international students in the sciences have a harder time coming to the U.S. to study? Elliott says yes.


“The Department of State has what they call a Technology Alert List, the TAL. It has all of these fields that are red flags,” says Elliott. “In other words, the government has to go through more processing and background investigation on mostly people doing research in those fields.”


On top of international students facing a stricter vetting process when majoring in science or technology, they may also see some delays when applying for OPT (Optional Practical Training).


“OPT gives you a year of work after college,” says Pham. “For the STEM field, you get a two year extension. So I would say that the embassy takes more consideration giving these kids chances to go and do STEM work.”


Elliott says the process delays are a combination of three factors.


Michael Elliot, director of International Student and Scholar Services (Habib Affinnih / ASP)

“The country can matter,” says Elliott. “The person themselves and their background matters and what they’re studying matters. When you put those three things together, you can have a more difficult time. The perfect storm.”


Despite the challenges, students like Cat Pham remain motivated to study in the U.S.


“The work I’m doing here is not really developed in Vietnam,” says Pham. “I would like to stay here to continue my work until I’m done.”


In the meantime, International Student and Scholar Services will be available to help.


“We had an immigration attorney group come in,” Elliott says. “They did a presentation on knowing your rights, on visa revocation, issues around how to deal with law enforcement, particularly immigration law enforcement, scams and frauds.”


Workshops are also available through the ISSS for students who want to stay in the U.S. for further study.


For more information, International Student and Scholar Services is located in the Science Library, on the first floor.