US: Visa trouble could drive foreign students away

When Dr Alena Shkumatava opens the door to the 'fish lab' at the Whitehead Institute of MIT, she encounters warm, aquarium-scented air and shelf after shelf of foot-long tanks, each containing one or more zebra fish, writes Cornelia Dean in the New York Times.

She studies the tiny fish in her quest to unravel one of the knottiest problems in biology: how the acting of genes is encouraged or inhibited in cells. The work, focusing on genetic material called micro-RNAs, is ripe with promise. But Shkumatava, a postdoctoral researcher from Belarus, will not pursue it in the US, she said, partly because of what happened last year, when she tried to renew her visa.

What should have been a short visit with her family in Belarus punctuated by a routine trip to an American consulate turned into a three-month nightmare of bureaucratic snafus, lost documents and frustrating encounters with embassy employees. "If you write an e-mail, there is no one replying to you," she said. "Unfortunately, this is very common."

Shkumatava, who ended up travelling to Moscow for a visa, is among the several hundred thousand students who need a visa to study in the US. People at universities and scientific organisations who study the issue say they have heard increasing complaints of visa delays since last fall, particularly for students in science engineering and other technical fields.
Full report on the New York Times site