I’d like to turn Allan Bloom’s neoconservative rant against multi-culturalism, The Closing of the American Mind, on its head in this post about the Bush Administration’s war on foreign intellectuals who wish to teach or speak at American universities.
Many of us know about Tariq Ramadan’s horror story in being denied a visa to teach at Notre Dame University. He and the ACLU are suing the Department of Homeland Security over that one. But recent news stories note that DHS and the State Department are waging a worldwide campaign to rid this country’s campuses of foreign intellectuals who may expose our tender young minds to ideas too dangerous for them to absorb. Not to mention those foreign scientists who may be coming here to “steal” our secrets in order to foment terror against us (see below).
The Chronicle of Higher Education (paid subscription required or read it here) reports that an indigenous Bolivian professor has been denied a visa to teach at the University of Nebraska:
Waskar T. Ari, a member of Bolivia’s largest indigenous group, earned a Ph.D. in history from Georgetown University in 2005 and was hired by Nebraska as an assistant professor of history and ethnic studies. His job was to have begun last August.
Barbara S. Weinstein, a history professor at the University of Maryland at College Park, called the situation “very disturbing.” Ms. Weinstein is president-elect of the American Historical Association, which has spoken out in behalf of Mr. Ari.
The government’s reason for not issuing the visa, she speculated, seems related to his ethnicity. “He has certainly never been a member of any movement that would be of a security concern to the U.S. government,” she said.
Mr. Ari, a member of the Aymara people of Bolivia, is a scholar of the religious beliefs and political activism among indigenous Bolivians. He has served as a consultant on social and economic issues facing the Aymara with the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank, and other organizations.
The circumstances under which the U.S. denied his visa are murky at best:
Last June, shortly after it hired Mr. Ari, the University of Nebraska paid $1,000 for an expedited application to the U.S. immigration service to have him declared eligible to apply for a visa for a professional job in the United States. Today, eight months later, the service’s Web site shows the application as “pending.”
The university says it has not received any explanation from the immigration service, which is part of the Department of Homeland Security.
But it appears that the government has classified Mr. Ari as a threat to American security. Mr. Ari had been living in the Washington area when he was hired by Nebraska, and returned home to Bolivia for what he expected would be a short stay to settle his affairs and pick up a new visa. But when he visited the U.S. Consulate last summer in the Bolivian capital, La Paz, U.S. officials took his passport and stamped “canceled” over his student visa, which was about to expire anyway.
Asked about the situation, a spokeswoman at the State Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs checked Mr. Ari’s file and said the cancellation of his old visa was done under a terrorism-related section of U.S. legislation on the granting of visas. “We have derogatory information that renders him ineligible,” she said, but declined to add any further information.
This incident illustrates perfectly the distortion introduced into U.S. intellectual life by 9/11 and the terror obsession that prevailed. Terror trumps all–it trumps thought, ideas, knowledge. Even worse, raising the terror specter renders any dissent useless. And the government doesn’t even have to provide a reason for turning foreign academics away. Is this democracy? Is this freedom? Is this what this nation really stands for? What are we afraid of? That an Aymara professor will introduce the “poisonous” ideas of Evo Morales to young college students and bring the spirit of the ‘coca revolution’ here?
I’m embarrassed to say that an Aymara Indian has more faith in my country than I do:
Mr. Ari is one of very few members of the Aymara to have attained a Ph.D.
…Mr. Ari said that he considers the United States like his second “fatherland,” adding that “many indigenous people think I’m too pro-American.”
“It must be some big mistake,” he said of his situation, adding, “I believe in justice. The truth will win out.”
I only hope it is so. But given the closeted minds of this Administration I’m afraid he may be waiting for justice a long time. I hope the ACLU is listening and will take this case on as well as Ramadan’s.
And for the final academic visa outrage of the day, we have the Washington Post to thank. It reported that An Indian academic chemist, Goverdhan Mehta, who is the president of the International Council for Science, was denied a visa by the U.S. consulate in Madras because officials viewed his research as somehow tied to chemical warfare:
The consulate told Mehta “you have been denied a visa” and invited him to submit additional information, according to an official at the National Academy of Sciences who saw a copy of the document. Mehta said in a written account obtained by The Washington Post…hat he was humiliated, accused of “hiding things” and being dishonest, and told that his work is dangerous because of its potential applications in chemical warfare.
Mehta denied that his work has anything to do with weapons…
The scientist told Indian newspapers that his dealing with the U.S. consulate was “the most degrading experience of my life.”
…Mehta’s case has especially angered Indians because he was a director of the Indian Institute of Science and is a science adviser to India’s prime minister. He has visited the United States “dozens of times,” he said, and the University of Florida in Gainesville had invited him to lecture at an international conference.
In his written account, the scientist said that after traveling 200 miles, waiting three hours with his wife for an interview and being accused of deception, he was outraged when his accounts of his research were questioned and he was told he needed to fill out a detailed questionnaire.
“I indicated that I have no desire to subject myself to any further humiliation and asked that our passports be returned forthwith,” he wrote. The consular official, Mehta added, “stamped the passports to indicate visa refusal and returned them.”
What makes this outrage all the more embarrassing for Bush is that he’s scheduled to visit India in a few days. This will, I’m sure sit well with his Indian hosts. How do you plan to visit one of the world’s most important nations and yet manage to insult some of its most well-connected and distinguished scientists? It boggles the mind. But we should keep in mind that if they do this to the cream of the intellectual crop imagine what they do to the average Indian. This all sends a terrific message to Indians about our openness to them and their ideas. What a way to make friends and influence people.
The State Department spokesperson Adam Ereli’s statement of regret is amusing:
“We try to treat everybody fairly. We certainly think we did so in this case, frankly. And we look forward to him having a good trip to the United States. Because the United States wants to be open and welcoming to all those who wish to come here and we’ve made every effort in this case to be open, to be welcoming and to deal with Professor Mehta in a respectful and cordial way.”
When you consider this statement by the ‘victim:’
Mehta said that he had already canceled his travel plans and declined a visiting professorship at the University of Florida in Gainesville. He said the issuance of a visa will not change his decision.
The NY Times version of the story further notes:
Dr. Mehta said he had visited the United States about 20 times but would never again apply for an American visa.
Perhaps Adam Ereli should’ve sung instead “we’ll be missing you in all the old familar places.”
The NY Times notes that two other distinguished Indian academics have also been denied visas from the same U.S. consulate:
…Placid Rodriguez, said he was called by the consulate on Feb. 16. A nuclear metallurgist who helped develop India’s fast-breeder reactor in the 1990’s, he had sought a visa in November to speak at a minerals and metals conference starting March 12 in San Antonio. He said he was told [on Feb. 16] it would take about eight weeks to review his answers to a new questionnaire.
…Dr. Rodriguez said that when he was told that, he saw no point in completing the questionnaire because he would have missed the conference. Besides, he wondered aloud, why hadn’t consular officials asked for the questionnaire in November?
The final case, reported Thursday by an English-language daily, The Indian Express, involved a biologist, P. C. Kesavan, who said he had been told his visa application would be delayed. A scientist affiliated with the M. S. Swaminathan Research Foundation, Dr. Kesavan told the newspaper he had been asked for his “entire biographical sketch” by the consulate in Chennai. The paper quoted him as calling it a “most demeaning and humiliating experience.”
This is the second incident of a Bolivian being denied entry I’ve heard in two days:
LA PAZ— President Evo Morales criticized Washington on Thursday for barring Bolivian Senator Leonilda Zurita from entering the United States over unfounded suspicions of terrorism.
Their problem isn’t with terrorism, its with Socialism. Evo Morales is probably on the same Pat Robertson list as Hugo Chavez.
Dunno Whattosay says
I think there is a consensus that the process for getting a visa imprinted on your passport is horrific (Note I’m separating the process to obtain an approval for a visa such as in the case of H1B temporary worker visa). Here are the three experiences I’ve had.
1999, 2001 Chennai Consulate for F1 and later H1B visas. I live 20 hours away from Chennai by road. So I had to prepare all the application documents and travel 20 hours to Chennai. I had a room in a hotel close to the airport. The hotel knew the process for getting an appointment so they woke me and my family at 4 AM. I got in line at 4AM and my family gave me some water. Every hour somebody from my family would come back from the hotel and give me a little water while I stood in line. Just before I made it into through the embassy doors, my family made me drink up because they knew I wouldn’t get any water for the next two hours while I stood in an outdoor cattle shed of sorts within the embassy walls. Also remember there is no way to unload for 6 hours from when im in line until 10AM when I made it through to an indoor cattle shed (shelter from the rain and sweet AC) within the embassy where you get a token number and access to toilet facilities. God was I glad I could unload. Once I get in at 10AM, its another two hours to make it through to the interview counter where even before 911, the semi educated “diplomat” got a chance to badger me. Keep in mind that I’ve interacted with about 10 employees so far through out the cattle drive. However since I came in close proximity to these people they were locally hired employees (In an American consulate the closes the local populace can come to an American employee is through 6” bullet proof glass places 3 feet away behind a barricade). When waiting for my interview, I can hear other people being badgered. Again im not kidding when I mean badgered. The guy in front of me was a Phd student from Tamil Nadu with a thick Tamil accent. The person interviewing him was not just rude but mean in that she tried to imitate his accent and said “I can’t understand you. Why do you speak like this. This accent is ridiculous”. She finally did deny him his visa, im not sure for what reason, but im sure the reason is less important than the abuse and insult that he took in the process of being denied. I finally got my interview and fortunately I speak English without an accent so it was good. Ofcourse I had to come back at 4PM and stand in line for another 2 hours to get my passport back.
2007 Mumbai. I had to come to India. I didn’t at that time require a visa because my Greencard (485) was approved. I could come back to the United States with a travel document in lieu of a visa. However it takes INS over 5 months (the posted timeframe is 3 months) to give you a travel permit with a 12 month validity. I took the INS at their word and applied for a renewal of my Travel Permit 4 months before the expiration of my existing travel document and my departure date. Lo and Behold 2 weeks (3.5 months after I applied) my departure I had no travel document. Lucky for me, I had asked my company to extend my H1B so I could go to India and get the Visa stamped on my passport. Here is what it took for me get my visa stamped.
The only consulate with appointment dates in the 5 weeks I was in India was Mumbai. In order to get an already approved visa stamped this is what it takes. I had FedEx over 150 pages of documents (copies of every page of my passport, Application forms, a folder describing my company and its revenues etc etc) to my cousin. He then had to
travel 6 hours to a city (The US embassy does not accept online payment and doesn’t accept dollars. The fee had to be paid in rupees. Does the US embassy not trust their own currency??) where the US Embassy had a designated bank where he could pay the $100 documentation fee (In addition to the $5000 that it took to get the visa approved in the US) and obtain a receipt. He then had to scan and email me the receipt which I had to use to make a stamping appointment at the Mumbai Consulate. After which I had to send him PDFs of the appointment that he could print and create an application packet. At this time the Mumbai consulate didn’t accept documents by mail. Somebody had to physically go and drop off the application packet 5 business days in advance. I had to find a friend who had relatives in Mumbai who could travel 2 hours to drop off the application packet. My cousin couriered over the documents to my friends relatibves who them took a 2 hour (each way) trip to the designated Indian office (not the locals are not allowed near the consulate) to drop off my application packet. I then had to pay a fee to the designated office so I had a place to sit (instead of standing 4 hours in the hot sun) waiting for my appointment. The office bussed me to the consulate at the designated time and I went in OK (only because I paid extra for the convenience). The appointment was quick over in 10 mins and I was back in the office where I had to wait for 8 hours to get my passport back. The last part involved standing in line for 3hours to get my passport back.
Lesson any US visa stamping or travel letter takes about 6 months. This means if you have a travel permit valid for 12 months, you better apply for a renewal 6 months in advance. If the INS keeps to its deadline (they sometimes do) you will have two travel permits with a 3 month overlap. As soon as you get it its better to plan on applying for a renewal because of the length of time it takes. Unfortunately it means a cost of approximately $800 every 9 months (for your travel permit and work permit which the INS keeps separate for some reason)
Given all this I cant see anybody having a reason to complain about an Indian Visa. Normally India practices reciprocity in most diplomatic processes, however I cant think of any / many Americans who will take so much humiliation to travel to a foreign country. Its just that India needs the American tourist / business person than America needs Indian tourist / brains. But that’s life