And we thought we had visa issues

I (jm) have been having fun getting to know the US education visa regulations at work.  Well maybe fun is not the right word to use, but it sure is interesting.  Many of the students that come in ask about getting a visa, and then you discover that they haven’t even begun to apply to any schools yet.  This is how worried people get about the process, and rightfully so.  Two years ago, with the introduction of new regulations due to September 11th, there was a general meltdown in granting visas to the US.  Many of these problems have been sorted out, but the process is still daunting, intimidating, and long, especially in other countries.

To get a visa to study in the US, you must show that you have funds available for the full course of your study.  That means that if you’re going off to get a B.A. at a school which costs $30,000 a year you need to have $120,000 in the bank before you apply for a visa.  This needs to be documented somehow- if it’s a bank statement you use it has to be translated into English and dollars which is difficult.  If you get a letter from your bank as proof, it has to show you average balance for the last year as well as the current balance.  And it has to be from within the last 60 days.  There are also many forms to fill out, one which can only be done on the internet.  Men have to fill out an extra form that women do not. If you are admitted to a University, they send you a form which you have to have in order to get a visa.  You have to give proof, somehow, that you will not remain in the States after you are done with your education.  There are two one hundred dollar fees to pay.  One has to be done at a specific bank in KL here, one has to be done online by credit card (I’m told that the server often rejects perfectly good credit cards for no reason).  Oh, and then there’s the interview.  Every person has to have a face to face interview.  This means that the man who called the office last week from Malaysian Borneo got mad at me when I told him his son must fly here to KL just for this interview.  But if you make it that far, they let you know right away if you get accepted or rejected.  At least that’s here.

It gets more compicated when you’re applying in a country where you are not a citizen.  I spoke with an Indian man last week who was admitted to college, quit his job, was all set to go, and then was rejected for a visa in India in 2002.  He said that every single applicant that day was rejected.  Considering that there are 70,000 Indians who come to the US to study every year, I wonder how many pass through their offices there.  We’re hoping that he may be able to work it out here.

There was a Chinese man in last week who got admitted to Harvard Business School, and was absolutely thrilled.  He said he studied for 3 years for the entrance exams, and that even when he was admitted to 5 other top level schools he just wasn’t that excited.  When he got the call from Harvard he said he walked around the city all night because he was too excited to sleep.  He was contributing much of the yearly $68,000 fee himself, but had to have his parents in China arrange to get a letter from his bank, which will not translate his funds into dollars.  So he was going to the Chinese Embassy here to try and get something official looking.  He said that most people who apply for student visas from China are rejected, because they can’t show available funds or that they are going to come back home after school.  It takes at least 3 months to get processed for an appointment there, and you have to go to a bank to buy a phone number to use to call to schedule one. 

So when all is said and done, Malaysia is really on the ball.  But it’s still a crazy process and one which occupies the minds of many potential students and probably scares away many others.  So compared to all this our visa nonsense doesn’t seem so bad after all.  Good to keep things in perspective.

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