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US universities urges acceleration of visa processing
Updated: 2004-02-26 14:08

The Association of American Universities (AAU) on Wednesday urged the Congress to examine the international student and scholar visa reviewing process which it described as "inefficient, lengthy, and difficult."

In a letter sent to Sherwood Boehlert, chairman of the Committee on Science of the US House of Representative, and Bart Gordon, ranking member of the committee, the AAU said the current visa adjudication process "is discouraging international students and scholars from making the United States their destination of choice."

The letter coincided with a report published by the General Accounting Office (GAO), the investigating arm of the Congress, which found heightened security measures in place since the Sept. 11 2001 attacks have lengthened the visa application process to anaverage of 67 days for foreign students and scientists.

A small portion of applications studied had a processing time of over six months, the report said.

The GAO report said the State Department's and the FBI's information systems do not communicate as well as they could, adding to the problem.

The AAU said there may be new evidence to suggest that the current visa process "is already taking a toll on the future of American science."

Earlier this month, several higher education organizations jointly surveyed US colleges and universities to determine whether there had been a drop in the number of applications from international students for the fall of 2004 compared to the fall of 2003.

"While the results of the survey are still being analyzed, preliminary results indicate that applications from prospective international graduate students decreased for 2004," the AAU letter said.

Officials with the FBI and the Homeland Security and State Departments testified before the House Science Committee in response to the GAO report. They said delays have been reduced significantly since the GAO began examining the system last year, and they continued to work on those problems.

"The United States has for decades been the world leader in attracting the best and brightest international graduate students, and declining international graduate student applications may be a harbinger of a diminishing leadership role for American science," the AAU said.

"There should be no doubt that other countries will be happy to pick up the slack," the letter said.

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