October 30, 2002

Students Gather To Discuss Visa Denial

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Several students gathered in the Founders Room of Anabel Taylor Hall yesterday to discuss the withholding of visas from international college at Cornell and other universities. Brendan O’Brien, director of the international students and scholars office, Kent Hubbell, dean of students, and Anke Wessels, of the Center for Religion, Ethics and Social Policy (CRESP), spoke at the meeting.

“There have been a few students [at Cornell] who were affected very dramatically,” O’Brien said. “We did have a whole group of Malaysian students who were going into the College of Engineering. These were incoming undergraduates. They applied for their visas very, very early. They were never able to get the security check completed by late August, when it was time for them to come.”

Approximately 20 to 25 Cornell students either failed to obtain visas or had their visas delayed. O’Brien noted not all rejected visas were due to security concerns; many rejections were due to the student failing to prove his or her intent to leave the United States after graduation.

O’Brien observed that these numbers were higher than they had ever been in the past, which he attributes to the State Department being put under more scrutiny than it was prior to the Sept. 11 attacks.

“We are talking about a number of maybe over 20 students who were either denied visas or whose visas had been delayed. Typically that number is one or two,” said Wessels. “This is a loss not just for [the students denied visas], but also for us. In the United States, our universities are traditionally very open to accepting international students to come attend and to come contribute to research.”

O’Brien noted that there are 3,200 international students at Cornell from over 125 nations. Roughly two-thirds of these students are graduate students; the remaining one-third are undergraduates.

Both O’Brien and Hubbell noted Cornell’s views are strongly in favor of international education.

“Cornell has had a long history of internationalism,” Hubbell said. “It goes back to the very beginnings of the University and it’s actually fundamental to how we undertake our mission as an institution of higher learning. It’s no understatement, it’s hard to overstate how important it is for us to invite welcome and educate and make a good place for our international students.”

O’Brien agreed, saying, “having students come here, having this exchange of people, this exchange of ideas I think is one of our best hopes to promote security. The understanding that results from that I think helps to make the world a safer place.”

The forum also addressed the causes of the changes in policy, and how Cornell is responding to the changes.

“Since [Sept. 11], international terrorism has kind of been linked with security fears. Personally, I think that’s a little bit of an unfair link,” O’Brien said.

He noted that there are currently 700,000 international students in the United States; there have been millions over the past 10 to 20 years. Of these students, O’Brien claimed, “It appears that maybe three or four have been shown that they definitely had an intent to harm the US.”

O’Brien also noted that students only account for 1 percent to 2 percent of people crossing borders. Travel visas make up the majority of traffic along the U.S. border.

Hubbell and O’Brien both addressed how the University was reacting to these changes. Hubbell read part of a letter written by President Hunter R. Rawlings III and Provost Biddy (Carolyn A.) Martin last February.

“We ask faculty, staff and students to seek a broad and deep education and overcome stereotypes about groups of people or traditions with which they are unfamiliar,” Hubbell quoted from the letter. “Our common goal should be an environment in which no student feels vulnerable to attack, harassment or exclusion because of his or her race or ethnicity.”

O’Brien addressed how the University would help international students.

“We will try to keep everybody very informed of different regulations, we’ll make sure everybody has the proper documentation, and we’ll support them when they’re in trouble.”

A letter commending CRESP’s work on bringing this issue to attention was also read at the forum. The letter was signed by the leaders of various student groups, including the Graduate and Professional Students Assembly, the University Assembly, the Employee Assembly and the Student Assembly.

Many students found the forum useful. “It was informative,” said Urbashi Poddar grad. “With the issues this country is going through, the closer we work, the better we can develop more effective means for tackling the issues.”

Archived article by David Hillis