القنصل العام في السفارة الأمريكية في الرياض يزور الملحق الثقافي في مكتبه
زار سعادة القنصل العام بالسفارة الأمريكية بالرياض السيد دونالد جاكوبسون الشهر الماضي الملحقية الثقافية السعودية بواشنطن. وقد كان في استقبال القنصل العام سعادة الملحق الثقافي د. محمد العيسى. وقد استعرض الاثنان عددا من المواضيع ومن ضمنها مشكلة عدم تجديد التأشيرات للطلبة السعودين أثناء زيارتهم للسعودية، إضافة إلى مشكلة التأخر في إصدار وتجديد التأشيرة.
وفي إطار الترتيب الذي سبق هذا اللقاء فقد طلب سعادة الملحق في وقت سابق من حملة متابعة مشاكل التأشيرات تسليم تقرير عن الموضوع بغرض تسليمه للقنصل، فقام مجموعة من أعضاء فريق الحملة بصياغة خطاب إلى معالي السفير الأمريكي في الرياض يذكر فيه نماذج لقصص من معاناة الطلبة من مسألة عدم أو التأخر في تجديد التأشيرة، إضافة إلى نماذج لقصص معاناة طلبة فضلوا البقاء في أمريكا وعدم زيارة السعودية خوفا من التأخر في تجديدالتأشيرة. كما احتوى التقرير على اقتراحات وتساؤلات بخصوص إصدار التأشيرة. ويمكن الاطلاع عل التقرير الذي سلمه الملحق للقنصل في آخر هذا الخبر.
وقد أبدى القنصل تفهمه للوضع ووعد الملحق بالاهتمام، وإيصال الموضوع إلى معالي السفير الأمريكي، كما ذكر أن السبب الرئيسي لعدم تجديد التأشيرة للطلبة أثناء زيارتهم للسعودية هو تدني مستواهم الدراسي، وأن هذا جزء من نظام أمريكي متكامل بهذاالخصوص. أما بالنسبة لمشكلة التأخر في إصدار أو تجديد التأشيرات، فقد ذكر أنها كثيرا ما تكون خارج صلاحيات السفارة، ولكنه ذكر أن هناك جهودا للزيادة من كفاءة وسرعة الإجراءات.
وبعد الغداء قام الملحق الثقافي بإجراء جولة للقنصل الأمريكي في مكاتب الملحقية، وقد سر القنصل وأعجب بمقدار المتابعة التي تقوم بها الملحقية للطلبة السعوديين أثناء دراستهم وطلب إرسال جداولهم الدراسية في بداية الفصل الدراسي وسجلاتهم الأكاديمية بعد انتهاء الفصل الدراسي. وخرج بانطباع إيجابي جدا بعد زيارته للمحلقية والتي امتدت لأربع ساعات ونصف.
ويتقدم فريق الحملة بشكر سعادة الملحق الثقافي وباقي موظفي الملحقية على مجهودهم في استقبال القنصل العام بالسفارة الأمريكية بالرياض وإيصال التقرير الذي أعده فريق الحملة، وينقل لأعضاء الملتقى السعودي توجيه الملحق لهم بأهمية الاهتمام بالجانب الدراسي لما فيه من مصلحة لهم أولا، إضافة لتجنب عدم تجديد التأشيرة أثناء زيارتهم للسعودية.
فريق حملة الملتقى السعودي لمتابعة مشاكل التأشيرات
Honorable Mr. Ford Fraker
United States Ambassador to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
We are a group of Saudi students attending different schools around the United States who are currently working on a campaign to raise awareness within the community towards the negative impact of the problem of delayed visa processing time for some Saudi students.
As students studying in the United States, we are very grateful for the efforts of outreach and communications being regularly conducted between our Ambassador Mr Adel Al-Jubeir as well as our Cultural Attaché Dr. Mohammed Al-Eissa and many US officials to discuss the issues related to immigrations and visa violations. Such communications have resulted in resolving many of the problems Saudi students use to face in these areas. We also feel that students in general would appreciate the efforts done by our officials more and more if they are more publicized within the student bodies, which is something we are willing to help in.
Dear Sir, the scholarship program that was initiated few years ago by the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz was widely welcomed within Saudi Arabia, thousands of students lined up to apply for the program hoping to get a chance to come to the United States a country that leads the world in science and research with high ambitions and hopes to gain the experience they would need in building our country. We believe that this program is vital for the development of our country in many ways, students coming here would not only get education and experience, but they would also help in building bridges and enhancing relations between the people of both countries.
Many Saudi students proved themselves around different United States campuses and received wide range of recognitions in their academic work as well as for their leadership and dedication in student activities even from top schools around the country. In addition, Saudi Student Houses/Clubs (SSH) around many universities made significant contributions in reaching out to the larger community through social and educational events, and this have helped in changing many of the false perceptions people have on others from both sides. The video titled “SSH around USA” available on YouTube was a gift given to the leaders of our country during their last visit to the United States. It consists of a sample for the activities of 30 SSH providing cultural exchange in different campuses around the United States.
Students graduating from United States will return to Saudi Arabia to get key positions in different fields and areas, which will further enhance the cooperation between both countries. Putting all the above in mind, we would like to encourage more Saudis to come to take advantage of the scholarship program and come to study in the United States. In addition, students currently in the United States need the piece of mind about being able to return back in holidays to visit their families without the fear of loosing a term or two in the visa renewal process. This piece of mind will reduce the pressures they face during their school work which would further enhance their academic achievements.
Having said that, we do appreciate the recent changes in visa laws by giving students up to five years visas and we do understand that national security is a priority to the United States as it is even for us, after all, we and our families are already here and it is also one of our concerns not to have the wrong people enter into this country. However, we are familiar with many cases for students who had visa delays for unwarranted reasons.
We have designed a survey for Saudi students in the United States, and we are currently collecting responses to try to gather information about the extent of the problem. So far, we have more than 1000 participants in the study from different parts in the United States. One initial result out of the survey shows that more than half of Saudi students currently in the United States intend not to visit Saudi Arabia after their visa expires until they get their degree. There are about 45,000 students and students’ family members in the United States, almost all of them have visas that will expire in less than two years, since they came to the United States before the recent changes in visa laws. This means that 22,000 Saudis will be stuck in the United States for several years until they get the degree they came for. We have included some of the stories we received through the survey with this letter to give you an insight about the extent of the problem and the negative impacts it has on the students currently in the United States as well as on potential students thinking about coming to the United States.
We have also included some of the ideas and questions that we think may help some of the students as well as preserve your concerns about visa issues. We understand that we are students who may not know the inside complications of the situation, but we hope that we can reach out to the people responsible for making these laws so that they can hear about what we go through. In addition, we would like to take your voice back to the students and inform them of your expectations and your concerns during the processing of visa applications as well as during the visa interviews at the Embassy in Riyadh, we hope to learn about these points from you through a series of questions included with this letter. These points would help us in creating a pamphlet consisting of tips for students applying for new visas as well as students renewing their visas.
Dear Sir, in no way we want to challenge the standards upon which visas are issued, we respect the law and don’t want you to issue a visa for someone you think is a risk. However, we would like the officials and the people in charge to become aware of those innocent people who unknowingly may have had the "wrong name" or happened to be in the "wrong place" or spoke with the "wrong people". We are an extremely friendly and social society which makes all of us a possible victim to this "guilt with association".
We truly hope that you would be able to raise our voices to the decision makers whether in Capitol Hill, State Department, Home land Security or else where. We hope that you would be able to help us in establishing a hotline that the Saudi Cultural Mission in Washington can contact with real cases of students ending up waiting long time for visas. Many of the miss-understandings leading to long delays in processing times can be cleared through such line of communication as it did in few of the cases in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania.
Finally, we truly appreciate your outreach efforts in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. We heard the news of your meeting with the students and media representatives over there and we wish that we can have similar lines of communications so that the Saudi Students in the United States can share their ideas and concerns as well. After all, we are working for the same cause which is building strong ties between the people from both countries.
Sample Stories for Saudi Students Seeking US F1 Visa
Source: Personal acquaintance with members of the campaign
1. A student, along with his wife and four children, visited their family in Saudi Arabia at the beginning of the summer. After they applied for visas, they had to wait for 10 months to have the visas issued. During that long waiting time, the student had to skip two academic semesters, interrupt his children’s education by transferring them a local Saudi school instead of the one they were used to in the US, pay the rent and utility bills for their vacant house, and finally stay unemployed as he was unable to know how long the visa will take to be issued.
2.A student finished his Master’s Degree and got a Doctoral Degree acceptance in the same university in the US. He decided to go for a visit to Saudi Arabia, and apply to renew his visa over there. In order to avoid what happened to the previous student above, he evacuated his house, sold his furniture, had his car shipped. Unexpectedly, he got the visa in time. However, he had to do a lot of arrangements to settle down again, which cost him money and time as if he was a new student starting up. He could have avoided that entire burden if there had not been such issues with the visa renewal process.
3. Another student decided to stay in the US until graduating. But his wife went to Saudi Arabia with their children to attend her sister’s wedding. The wife, along with the children, applied to reissue their visas, which took them 14 months! Because of that long time of family separation, both spouses faced hard time missing each other, which affected the student’s academic performance and social life. Additionally, the children felt sadly being away from their father.
4. A student went to Saudi Arabia to get married to his fiancé so that both of them could get back to the US. Unfortunately, it took them 11 months to have the visas issued. While the newly married couple was waiting, they did not know what to do in terms of housing and studying. Feeling unsettled was strong worrisome. Also, the student lost a full academic year besides having to pay the rent and bills while away.
5. Similarly, another student wanted to get married to his fiancé who lived in Saudi Arabia. But this time the bride-to-be flew with her parents all the way from Saudi Arabia to Pittsburg, PA because the student did not want to take the risk of visa renewal. It was unusual and imperfect wedding party as no one from the groom’s parents and relatives was there to share the joy with the marrying couple.
6. A Ph.D. student went back home for a visit. He applied for a visa, however his request got rejected. He was about to finish his Doctoral program and to defend his dissertation. Because his university’s policies required students to register in their last semester, hence psychically be present at the university. He couldn’t defend his dissertation via a phone conference. The student was unable to complete his degree. His effort and time trying to pursue his dream was all gone uncompensated.
7. An ESL student was very terrified from the widely spread visa renewal nightmare. So he decided to go to Saudi Arabia during his English learning program to see his mother and siblings before his visa expires. Consequently, his starting academic semester in the university got postponed due to that visit.
8. A valid-visa student holder visited his family and planned to come back before it expires without any uncertainties. Unfortunately, he was not allowed to re-enter the states and got returned by the US authorities at the airport only because he happened to casually “know” a person who happens to be of interest.
9. A heartbreaking story. This student decided to stay in the US working towards his PhD degree to avoid any surprises that his fellow students had when they tried to reissue their visas. He did not see his family for five years. Sadly, three major tragedies happened to his family in Saudi Arabia while he was away: his ailing father passed away and he couldn’t give his farewell and see him for last time, his ailing mother in law passed away before his wife could give her farewell and see her for last time, and his brother in law also passed away, and his wife couldn’t see him and give her farewell. The student could not attend his brother wedding either, as well as the wife could not attend the weddings of two of her nephews. In addition, they are facing some difficulties regarding their Saudi bank account and Saudi ID expiration and other issues that require personal presence.
Sample Stories – Students stuck in the U.S. due to fear of visa delays or rejection
Source: Campaign Survey
1. “After what I heard about students facing significant visa delays, I decided to stay until I finish my studies and get my degree. I has been two years now since I visited my county. During these two years, my parents got a baby boy, who I never saw yet except in photos. If I saw him now, I would not recognize him. Just imagine what a (6-years old) would say when he will see me after four year from now? How would he react to brother he never saw except that he knew he was studying abroad?”
2. “I lost my best friend, my cousin, while I was in the US. I had to spend that distressing time myself apart from my family. I could not say goodbye to him nor see him for the last time.”
3. “I have been in USA for a year and 7 months, in which I could not go back home because I am afraid of being stuck without a visa. Because of that, my health and psyche tumbled and I suffered from a sever headache and psychological stress which negatively affected my academic performance. I have been checked by many physicians, but got no effective result. I am still suffering from some of these, but thank God I am getting better.”
4. “I am in a situation that only God knows. I am only seven months away from graduation and getting my Master’s. I have a 45-day holiday, but I cannot go back home because of the everyone’s nightmare, visa renewal. My dad is very ailing now, and I cannot see him. My supplication in every prayer is to bring us together in this life for the life after. Moreover, my mom has passed away and I am the youngest among my siblings whom I am deprived from seeing as well.”
5. “My brother-in-law is very ill, so my husband, who is the elder and only brother to him, is in a very frustrating situation because he cannot go to see his brother and support him. Our family’s atmosphere is deteriorating due to our uncertainty that we will be able to reissue our visas.”
6. “More than five of my relatives have passed away while I was in the US. My mother got diagnosed with cancer and she is currently in chemotherapy, which is a main cause of me getting a low GPA.”
7. “I lost the woman whom I waited for 18 years to get married to. The situation broke my heart and it made me desperate though I am close now to get a high academic degree. We were in agreement in getting married, but her long wait changed the plan negatively. America gave me a degree, but took my dream and life away.”
Questions and ideas to consider for visa issuing process
We believe that the following points may help in reducing the negative impacts of long visa processing on students while preserving the United States government concerns towards blocking unwanted individuals from getting into the United States
1. Saudi students were happy with recent changes in visa laws by giving students up to five years visas. However, a visa is issued for five years only if the I-20 stated that the duration of studies for the student is five years. Otherwise he/she will be issued a visa a shorter duration. Issuing a visa for five years without constraining it to the duration of studies stated by the I-20 will be very helpful. For example, in the current system, a new student planning to study BSc after completing the language course would obtain a visa for only one year (the duration of the English language course) rather than five years. In order for him to visit his family in Saudi Arabia after completing his language course, he would need to risk facing the delayed processing time. This also overloads the employees of the embassy with an application that was recently verified and processed.
So how about issuing a visa for five years from the start instead of having them apply twice? If a student didn’t manage to get an admission in a BSc program after completing the language and returned back to Saudi, he/she won’t be able to return to the United States since he/she does not have an I-20. Therefore, the five years F1 visa will not enable him/her to enter the United States.
2. How about allowing students to renew their visas while being in the United States without having to return to Saudi Arabia? Or at least allowing students to complete partial visa processing while being in the United States? This will reduce the work load on the embassy as well as help those students with expired visas and facing emergency situations to return to Saudi Arabia. Currently, students who face family complications or emergencies tend to avoid returning back to Saudi Arabia to deal with their problems because they fear that their visas won’t be reissued in time.
3. How about informing the students who are expected to have delayed processing time about the expected delay time so that they can chose between waiting for the processing time or decide to change the location of their study from the United States to other countries? Students in the scholarship program are required to leave their jobs; therefore, they have no source of income for their families other than the scholarship. So if the visa processing time goes beyond a month, then they start facing plenty of financial problems.
4. Traveling to Riyadh is not convenient for many people, so expediting re-opening the Visa processing center in Jeddah Saudi Arabia will make it easier for the population living in the western, northern and southern regions of Saudi Arabia to apply for visas. It will also reduce the load on the Riyadh and Eastern Province visa processing center.
Questions about US Embassy’s expectations from visa applicants
1. Could you provide tips and common mistakes for students in their interview?
2. Is evaluating the student’s study skills and abilities part of the responsibility of the interviewer?
3. Is the interviewer the one who decides whether the student receives the visa, or is it more of a collective decision taken by more than one person? Please explain.
4. If an applicant feels that the interviewer was not fair with him/her what should he/she do?
5. What are the steps that an applicant can take if his/her visa request was significantly delayed or rejected?
6. What are the things that typically flag a visa application? Do these flags differ between new visa applications, and visa renewal applications?
7. What additional documents you would recommend to include in an application to provide a good level of comfort for the people reviewing the application?
8. Since Saudi people are generally social, many of them tend to know many people. How does this affect them, especially if they just know (not necessarily friends) someone who happened to be of interest to the American government?
9. Does any of the following affect the processing of the application one way or another?
a. Moving from one school to another.
b. The reputation of the school in the field of study.
c. The grades of the applicant in his/her current American school.
d. Driving recording of the applicant.
e. The criminal record (DUI, getting arrested, etc).
f. Having a bad credit or not paying bills.
g. Being an active member in the local Saudi or Muslim community in his/her city.
h. Visiting certain countries like Syria.
We hope that you would be able to give us some insight on the situation by providing the answers to these questions to Dr Mohammed Al-Eissa our Cultural Attaché who is very sympathetic and supportive to this effort.