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U.S. Entry Process Frustrates Students, ScholarsVisiting scholars Alena Knezevic (from left) and Shunichi Namiki talk with Robert Ericksen, the new director of the Dashew Center for International Students and Scholars. (Photo by Reed Hutchinson)

U.S. Entry Process Frustrates Students, Scholars

A survey conducted by research director Shideh Hanassab of the Dashew Center for International Students and Scholars found widespread frustration with U.S. visa and immigration processes.

It's no secret that the U.S. is losing its market share in the competition for international students,

This article was first published on March 20, 2007, in UCLA Today Online.

By Cynthia Lee

THE OPPORTUNITY to study or do research at UCLA or any American university comes with a heavy cost these days, say international students and scholars, many of whom have had to endure long waits and rigid rules for visas and security clearances.

"I would not advise anyone to study in the U.S. after what I have been through," a UCLA student from England responded in a survey. "U.S. immigration is the meanest I have ever seen, and I have traveled to over 20 countries worldwide."

This student was one of 1,540 international students and scholars at UCLA queried last year about their experiences with post-9/11 immigration procedures. The survey, conducted by research director Shideh Hanassab of the Dashew Center for International Students and Scholars, found widespread frustration with U.S. visa and immigration processes.

Still, UCLA's worldwide reputation and its renowned faculty continue to draw growing numbers from around the globe.For 2006-07, a total of 4,704 non-immigrant international students were reported for the annual Institute of International Education's Open Doors survey. This is up from 3,979 the previous year, with most of the increase attributable to the inclusion of international students enrolled in UCLA Extension's programs.

For 2005-06, UCLA's international enrollment was the largest of all the UC campuses and 11th highest in the nation. The university ranks sixth in the country for the number of foreign scholars.

Keeping the doors open is a concern not just for UCLA, but a priority for the nation in its bid to remain globally competitive, said Robert Ericksen, the new director of the Dashew Center. "It's no secret that the U.S. is losing its market share in the competition for international students," he warned.

Some of the confusion students face may stem from the fact that while multiple U.S. government agencies are involved in the process of bringing in and overseeing students, "there's no overarching policy to ensure that there's proper communications among all those agencies."

Recently elected to the board of directors for the world's largest professional association dedicated to international education, NAFSA: Association of International Educators, Ericksen has joined a growing chorus calling for reforms that balance the need for national security with support for students.

For example, the Dashew director said, "We want to reduce redundant visa interviews by providing fast-track visa approval under a trusted-traveler program" for scholars or researchers who have been given visas before.

"International education is the seventh largest U.S. export in our economy," Ericksen said. "Students coming from all over the world are largely self-financed." UCLA's international contingent contributes $127 million annually to the local L.A. economy.

Although UCLA defies the trend, other U.S. campuses are losing out to institutions in countries that have developed comprehensive international education policies to attract such students. Britain, for example, has made it easier for students to work part-time so they can pay for their education.

The U.S. rules have posed a hardship for one doctoral student who is here from Iran on a six-month visa. Delays in getting visas for her and her family caused her to arrive late for the start of fall quarter.

Despite appeals by UCLA, the U.S. government refuses to extend her stay two more months. So she won't be able to finish spring quarter classes, and her child won't complete the school year.

"The rules are very rigid," said the student, who requested anonymity. "There should be some flexibility with each situation."

UCLA International Institute