Two years ago, Nabih Yousuf left her home in Abu Dhabi to come to Fort Worth. She had to make the trip alone. Although Yousuf, a sophomore engineering major, was able to obtain a student visa after being accepted to TCU, her father was not as fortunate. The U.S. Embassy in Dubai spent an entire year reviewing his application for a tourist visa, and denied her father the opportunity to accompany his daughter to college.
Yousuf said her father had a job in United Arab Emirates for more than 30 years, but that wasn’t enough for the U.S. Embassy to grant a visa.
“They look suspiciously upon people from Middle East countries,” she said. “But we’re not even from the United Arab Emirates. I’m originally from Bangladesh.”
Yousuf and her father are two of many cases of students and graduates who have encountered troubles when applying for a visa.
A U.S. State Department visa specialist, Sarah, who could not disclose her full name because of State Department policy, said staff shortage is to blame for the delay in processing visa requests. The staff shortage compounds the large workload the visa department already has in the first place, she said. Sarah was reached through the visa inquiries number.
“Think about it this way,” she said. “If everybody goes home at Christmas and needs a new visa to get back, the volume at a time we might be short of staff is enormous.”
John Singleton, director of the university’s International Student Services, said applicants often get rejected for a variety of reasons.
“One type of rejection is called failure to show home ties,” Singleton said. “In that case, which falls under the category for many of our students, they fail to show sufficient connections to their own country.”
According to the State Department Web site, “ties are the various aspects of your life that bind you to your country of residence: your possessions, employment, social and family relationships.” Examples of ties could be jobs, houses, family or a bank account, according to the site.
Problems arise with visa applications because each U.S. embassy operates under a different set of rules and has authority on visa approval, Singleton said.
State Department officials would not confirm whether the overall wait time has increased because of staff shortages. The department also would not give information about the actual number of visas rejected because of lack of home ties.
Singleton said about 15 percent of international applicants who get accepted to the university are denied visas.
Karen Scott, director of international admissions, said that while the U.S. maintains tough admissions standards, universities outside the U.S. are now taking advantage of the situation and are targeting students who were unable to get American visas.
“Back before Sept. 11, I rarely felt like I was competing against Canada, the U.K., Australia and Singapore,” Scott said. “Now we are competing against these countries. The U.S. is seen as the toughest with (visa) admission standards, so some students think, ‘Maybe I’ll go to Canada instead.'”
William Graham, head of the physics graduate program in which a third of his students come from another country, said he knows the problems the international students face when applying for a work visa.
Under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, any financial service or bank that receives stimulus money and has more than 15 percent of its work force on visas faces extra paperwork and bureaucratic red tape if it hires a visa holder.
Graham said the biggest problem his students face is getting an H-1B visa, which provides temporary work privileges for nonimmigrants once they complete at least a bachelor’s degree. According to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Web site, within 48 hours after accepting applications, the entire cap was met, and more than 125,000 people applied.
“There’s only so many (visas) allocated by Congress, and they run through them very quickly,” Graham said. “These are people that we’ve educated, who want to stay and contribute, and we’ve made it more complicated. It’s really silly.”
The current quota for H-1B visas stands at 65,000, according to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Web site.
Yousuf said she doesn’t know what the future holds for her. She said she hopes she can get some work experience, whether it’s in the U.S. or in her home country.
“When the embassy asked two years ago, I was like ‘I won’t work,'” Yousuf said. “But once I came to America, I realized that you need some kind of tactical work experience to succeed. There’s no harm in going back to work in Dubai, and if America has an opportunity, why not?”