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EAST-WEST-RESEARCH  June 2002

EAST-WEST-RESEARCH June 2002

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Subject:

Denial of visas to Russians accepted for study in the West

From:

Andrew Jameson <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Andrew Jameson <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Sun, 23 Jun 2002 16:47:52 +0100

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (382 lines)

[Compilation from the SEELANGS list]
Note the detailed suggestions for action by Irina Shevelenko
and the newspaper article quoted lower down.
--------------------------------------------------------
Dear colleagues,
   In the last two weeks three students from Russia, who were to attend
graduate school at the University of Kansas this fall, were denied visas at
the St. Petersburg US Consulate. Two were destined for our department, one
for another department. All were turned down for allegedly seeking economic
advantage. This is unprecedented for us. Do other departments have similar
experiences?
Best regards,
Marc

Marc L. Greenberg
Chair and Professor
Dept. of Slavic Languages and Literatures
University of Kansas - Wescoe Hall
1445 Jayhawk Blvd., Room 2133
Lawrence, KS 66045-7590, USA
Tel. and voice-mail: (785) 864-2349
Fax: (785) 864-4298; E-mail: [log in to unmask]
http://www.ku.edu/~slavic/

-------------------------------------------------------------------------
This is exactly what happened to a friend of mine several years ago. He was
lucky to have a supervisor here in the US who, in fury, called the consulate
and managed to find a higher official. After their conversation my friend
received a visa.
In general the atmosphere in the US Consulates in Russia is very humiliating
for visa applicants. They normally refuse parents to visit their children
here and children to visit parents and  so on. It seams to be a matter of
luck to receive a US visa, since they don't seem to have precise rules and
everything depends on a particular consul's opinion.

Julia Tulovsky
------------------------------------------------------------------------
You might also try the office of your local congressional representative.
I ran into a brick wall with the St. Petersburg consulate for quite awhile
in 1995 until I asked my rep. to get involved.

Don Todaro
--------------------------------------------------------------------
Dear Mr. Greenberg and others interested in this matter,

Any denial of visa by an American consulate to your prospective student can and
should be protested. I don't know the statistics of visa denials to students,
but such things do happen. And if the university struggles, it (and its
students) wins. Consuls in the consulate do everything to prevent this
struggle. They tell the applicant that it makes no sense for him (her) to
reapply, because s/he will be denied the visa again, etc.

Please note that no laws regulate issuing of American visas to foreigners;
everything is regulated by some restricted instructions and, ultimately, by how
this or that individual holding the position of consul interprets them in every
given case. Your students were certainly denied visas not for seeking economic
advantage; they must have been denied visas because they were unable to prove
they would return to Russia after the completion of their program of study.
Such things are impossible to prove, which is known to all and every consul. (I
mean, every proof can be declined as insufficient.) It is not illegal for any
foreign student studying in the US to then stay in the US permanently (although
in some cases restrictions apply), if s/he is hired by an employer who can hire
foreigners (and those are numerous). Hence, denial of student visas is the only
instrument of preventing those future hires. Why is this important to prevent?
-- this question can be better answered by someone else.

Here is what you as a university can do. Firstly, you have to win the support
of your Dean's office, ideally -- your President's office. The higher the rank
of the official signing your letter to the consul the better. Your letter must
ask the consul to reconsider his decision etc. (it will help to note the full
name of the applicant and the exact reason for visa denial as it was stated).
In your letter, you may want to reverse the logic of the consul. It is not the
student who chose to go to your university. It is your university which has
decided to offer him (her) admission to your program; that admission was on a
competitive basis, and your school wants to have its "chosen" students in
place. If your program relies on those students as TAs, that should be
mentioned, too. Ultimately, your letter must convey the feeling that your
university will struggle for each and every student to whom the admission was
offered (and who accepted it). Your letter must be addressed to: Consul, Visa
Section, Consulate General of USA, St. Petersburg, etc. (I am sure your
students can supply you with the complete address as well as fax number). It is
better to fax it there and to mail it by some fast mail. Plus, supply your
student with the copy of this letter.

Why would the consul change his mind? Well, because there are things they want
to avoid by all means: a flavor of scandal, publications in press, more protest
letters, protest letters going to their bosses in Washington, DC. Also, please
note. It is generally believed that a certain percentage of those student visa
certificates are "fake" ones, i.e., are somehow (God knows how) issued to
individuals who were not really admitted to any program. If you don't struggle
for your student, you will support consulate's suspicion that this student's
visa certificate was a "fake" one. And it is certainly not in the interests of
your university. Also, consuls are testing your university by these denials. If
you don't protest now, they will deny visas more. By these denials they simply
want to discourage universities from offering admissions to students from
certain countries (i.e., Russia). Whether they are smarter than the academic
community is to be determined.

In addition, please advise your students to acquire some kind of letter from
some kind of employer (an academic one, preferably) that would state, that this
or that employer is interested in hiring this student upon his completion of a
graduate degree. This will allow the consul to pretend that he is changing his
mind because of the new circumstances. They are bureaucrats before and after
all!

Good luck!

Irina Shevelenko, St. Petersburg
-------------------------------------------------------------------------
I urge everyone who comes across the denial of visa problem to help do
something about it. Irina Shevelenko gave excellent suggestions.  Put her
letter on your hard drive for easy reference.  Raise hell and ask for help
from people as high up as you can get.

The problem is particularly bad in St Petersburg where consular offices seem
to take the trouble to be insulting and/or humiliating in addition to
overtly nasty and just plain wrong.  It isn't just students that they are
unreasonably denying visas. Also professors coming to professional meetings,
and parents coming to visit children.

We  can complain and someone _might_ listen, while the Russian knows that
any complaint can kill any chances in the future.

Genevra Gerhart
http://www.GenevraGerhart.com
[log in to unmask]   206-329-0053
----------------------------------------------------------------------------
I just wanted to add, that, yes, contacting your congressional rep. is a very
good way to go about visa denials. But it is the step of the last hope (unless
you happen to have any "higher" connections). In many cases, a letter signed by
a high-ranking university official will suffice. They understand in the
consulates that if the university begins the struggle, it won't give it up.
That's why they put so many efforts into intimidating the applicants and telling
them not to appeal.

Irina Shevelenko
-------------------------------------------------------------------------
Dear colleagues,
    Thank you to all who have posted such helpful responses to my query,
particularly to Ms. Shevelenko for her detailed answer with many useful
suggestions.
    Indeed, I have engaged the College and Graduate School deans at my
university, who are now working through our state senators' and
representative's offices, to protest the denials.
    I was particularly interested to know whether the denials were of a
recent and local nature, i.e., limited to St. Petersburg and/or bound for
the University of Kansas. The answer seems to be that this is a
longstanding problem, particularly bad in St. P., but clearly KU is not the
only target.
    Further, I am curious to know whether there is truth to a recent rumor
that Bush and Putin cut a deal to stem the brain drain from Russian to the
US. If this is true, the consulates may be receiving fresh directives to
deny visas at all costs, in particular the study visas that we are
concerned with here.
Best wishes,
Marc

Marc L. Greenberg
Chair and Professor
Dept. of Slavic Languages and Literatures
University of Kansas - Wescoe Hall
1445 Jayhawk Blvd., Room 2133
Lawrence, KS 66045-7590, USA
Tel. and voice-mail: (785) 864-2349
Fax: (785) 864-4298; E-mail: [log in to unmask]
http://www.ku.edu/~slavic/

-------------------------------------------------------------------------
The University of Maryland, College Park, had visas denied in the summers of
'99 and '00 for an upper-20s man from Moscow and in the summer of '01 for a
lower-20s woman from St. Petersburg.  From what I remember, she was denied a
student visa twice in the same summer.  Basically, they flat out told her
that because she was in worst category for getting a visa -- a "young,
single, and attractive female" -- and it seems they hadn't even looked at her
documents from Maryland.  The department managed to reach someone at the
consulate for a third review, at which point she was given a visa.

Following the forwarded text below is an article on this very topic from the
Oct. 24, 1999, edition of the New York Times.  I retrieved it through a
search on Lexis-Nexis and considered posting excerpts but decided that it
would be better for everyone to be able to read the whole thing.

I can't speak to the rumor about a recent deal between Bush and his buddy
Pootie-Poot*, but the NY Times article indicates that this trend goes back
to at least August 1998.

* See the May 20, 2002, edition of The Guardian
http://www.guardian.co.uk/bush/story/0,7369,718575,00.html .  The NY Times,
however, reported on Feb. 18, 2001, that Bush calls Putin "Ostrich Legs"
http://www.nytimes.com/2001/02/18/weekinreview/18MCCA.html .

Copyright 1999 The New York Times Company
The New York Times

October 24, 1999, Sunday, Late Edition - Final

HEADLINE: WARY OF ABUSES, U.S. SHARPLY CUTS VISAS FOR RUSSIANS

BYLINE:  By MICHAEL R. GORDON

DATELINE: MOSCOW, Oct. 23

The United States Embassy in Moscow has sharply curtailed the number of
visas issued to Russians, particularly students and scholars, despite
Washington's avowed desire to spread Western values in Russia.

About 40 percent of Russian students who sought to study in the United
States using private funds were refused visas this year, about twice the
rejection rate of previous years. Embassy officials suggested that students
from impoverished Russia -- potentially part of the country's opinion-making
elite -- will be tempted to try to settle permanently in the United States.
In some cases, the reason given for refusing a visa -- that the applicant
appeared to have insufficient ties, like children, to Russia -- echoed the
Soviet practice of allowing citizens to travel abroad only if their loved
ones stayed behind to insure the relative's return.

The tightened visa policy followed the August 1998 economic collapse in
Russia and is part of a broader and increasingly rancorous debate over the
procedures for inviting foreign students to the United States. Applicants
from South Korea and Thailand, which have also undergone economic crises,
have reported increasing problems too in obtaining visas.

But the visa policy has special implications for Russia, where America wants
to encourage democracy and influence public opinion. The Clinton
Administration has defended its policy of engaging Russia, and recently
announced a vigorous campaign against what it calls the "new isolationists"
in Congress.

In Moscow, American Embassy officials deny that they have been overly
strict. Laura Clerici, the consul general, asserted that consular officials
needed to be particularly vigilant after the 1998 collapse.

"Many Russians think that bureaucracy is something to be gotten around," she
said in an interview. "They give us all sorts of paper that is false."

But American educators and former diplomats say that the embassy has
overreacted and that many worthy candidates have been cast aside.

They note that the embassy's statistics do not show Russians hurrying to
flee abroad after the ruble collapsed. Overall, visa applications have not
increased since August 1998 -- although the number of rejections has -- and
student applications have actually declined.

"The visa policy is at cross-purposes with U.S. foreign policy," said Greg
Guroff, the former director of an American Government office that encourages
educational and cultural exchanges. "The American policy had been to expand
contacts. Now the consular policy appears to be to turn down young people,
particularly on private education exchanges."

The visa policy has been a shock to many young Russians. Despite a general
surge in anti-American sentiment -- most evident in the street protests
outside the American Embassy during the Kosovo conflict -- young educated
Russians are still drawn to the United States.

For Russian students, there are American Government-financed exchange
programs that can last for a few weeks, or for years. In 1998, 6,000 visas
were granted to Russians under such programs. But Russians also attend
American universities and colleges using "F" type visas, where the education
is paid for by the student or other private sources or is supported by a
scholarship.

In 1998, 83 percent of all "F" type visas were granted during the prime
student application months of June through August. This year, the acceptance
rate slipped to 62 percent.

Ruslan Shevdov, 27, had appeared to catch a lucky break when the small
Moscow-based trading and agricultural company he joined after leaving the
food service division of the Russian Army offered to send him to America at
its expense to earn a degree in business administration and to perfect his
English.

Accepted by Adelphi University in Garden City, N.Y., Mr. Shevdov had hoped
to begin his studies this fall. But his request for an "F" visa was rejected
three times.

"They said I didn't fit the student profile," Mr. Shevdov said. "Maybe they
think I am too old. I tried to assure them that I plan to return. My parents
live here. This is the country where I grew up. I can call my friend here at
any time and he will come. How would I live there?"

Embassy officials said they would not discuss individual cases. The
six-member team that handles nonimmigrant visas at the Moscow consulate
makes hundreds of similar decisions, often on the basis of a 5- or 10-minute
interview.

They try to divine if a student or scholar has an unbreakable tie to the
homeland that will spur return. Interviews often amount to hurried
discussions of an applicant's marriage status, family life and assets.

The burden of proof that a Russian has no plans to emigrate, even legally,
falls on the applicants. They may find it hard to argue that what appear to
an American to be meager rewards are sufficient for a decent living in
Russia. Mr. Shevdov, for instance, earns about $900 a month, a a respectable
sum for a Muscovite.

Scholars have also had problems. Taras Ivchenko, a 34-year-old assistant
professor at Moscow University, is a specialist in Chinese linguistics who
graduated from Beijing University and wrote his doctorate in Chinese.
Encouraged by several American professors, he was to visit the United States
to help translate a Ming dynasty manuscript.

But in a 10-minute interview in May, Mr. Ivchenko was unable to secure a
tourist visa. He earns $150 a month and has no substantial property. His
wife, father and sister live here -- but Mr. Ivchenko said the consular
officer who interviewed him suggested that his chances for a visa would be
better if he had children to leave behind.

"It reminded me of Soviet times," the soft-spoken Mr. Ivchenko said. "I
would like to work on a project or two in the United States, but I am not
interested in emigrating there. I belong here."

American academics report increasing problems in obtaining visas for Russian
students or faculty members. Some have campaigned successfully to secure
visas; others have lost.

The University of Maryland was recently left without a Russian instructor
when the candidate it picked was denied a visa.

Maria Lekic, director of the university's graduate program in Russian
language, said the faculty had gone through a careful selection process and
had never had a Russian refuse to return home when a visa expired.

But the American Embassy concluded that the university salary for the
Russian was too appealing compared to his modest pay at home.

"For years, the Soviets would not let people leave," she said. "Now when
Russia is opening up, we are behaving like Soviets."

American Embassy officials insist that they need to be wary, and note that
the black market price of forged visas has risen, giving credence to street
talk of many Russians "jumping ship."

But they also concede that there has never been a comprehensive study on
whether Russian students eventually return, or emigrate.

Almost half a million tuition-paying foreign students were enrolled in
American institutions in the 1997-98 academic year. The tough American visa
policies are driving Russian students to other countries, like Britain,
which has loosened visa regulations to admit more foreign students.

Certainly, Britain won in the case of Maria Ushakova, 17, daughter of a
leading Russian businessman who wants to become a psychoanalyst and take
over her mother's practice. Her request for a visa to attend college in
Pennsylvania was repeatedly rejected.

Her family says she was told there was no point in studying in the United
States since Russia had no tradition of pychoanalysis and a foreign-trained
specialist would never find work at home. Her father then obtained a letter
from a Russian clinic saying it would gladly hire his daughter once she
finished her training.

Ms. Ushakova received a visa on her fourth try. By then, however, she had
missed the start of the school year in the United States. Offended, her
father said, by all the refusals and worried that she might not be able to
renew an American visa to finish her education, she is now studying in
London.

 http://www.nytimes.com

GRAPHIC: Chart: "BY THE NUMBERS: Closing the Door to Russians"
The number of Russian's visa applications that are denied has risen sharply,
including applications for those seeking to study in the United States on
private funds. The graph shows number of applications for visas, requested
and denied, June through August, 1996, 1997, 1998 and 1999. (Source: U.S.
Embassy)(pg. 10)

LOAD-DATE: October 24, 1999

-------------------------------------------------------------------------
Dear friends,

"Ekho Moskvy" published an interview with the American consul in Moscow, in
which student visas were also discussed. According to the consul, 25% of all
(not just student) applications are turned down.
The address of the interview follows:

http://www.echo.msk.ru/interview/5.html

With best regards,
Serguei Glebov, Ab Imperio editor
http://aimag.knet.ru

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