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Undergrads struggle to get visas, transfer funds

Going through a different embassy can expedite the process of obtaining a U.S. student visa

Coming to Brown from a country that has contentious relations with the United States can pose challenges for students trying to access the necessary paperwork and finances to enroll at the University, but administrators said they work to address the concerns of international students from such backgrounds.

Students’ abilities to complete the paperwork and payments necessary to matriculate varies with their personal circumstances and locations, said Elke Breker, director of the Office of International Student and Scholar Services. If there is no U.S. embassy in their countries, students must travel to another country to secure a visa, she said.

When Parmida Maghsoudlou ’16, a student from Iran — which does not have official diplomatic ties with the United States — applied for a visa to study in the United States, her application was originally rejected by the U.S. embassy in Turkmenistan before it was approved a year later by the U.S. embassy in the United Arab Emirates. Maghsoudlou, who spent her senior year of high school in Massachusetts, said she was frustrated by having to return to Iran for a year to wait for her visa to be accepted so she could attend Brown.

Students have come to Brown from countries that have hostile relations with the United States for a long time, wrote University Historian Jane Lancaster PhD’98 in email to The Herald. Even in times of instability such as the Cold War, the University reached out to applicants from countries outside the nation’s bloc of allies, Lancaster wrote. Brown established exchange programs in 1979 with the University of Rostock in East Germany and in 1982 with Nanjing University in China despite the countries’ communist affiliations, she wrote.

Some international students said filling out the copious amounts of paperwork necessary to enroll was a time-consuming burden.

The process of securing paperwork to come to the University was also challenging for Isabela Muci ’16, a student from Venezuela, she said. “I had to fill out a long questionnaire,” Muci said. “Once you get to the embassy, you have to wait (for) hours and hours.”

“Getting an American visa is notoriously difficult,” said Khin Su ’16, a Herald contributing writer who was born and raised in Myanmar. “You hear all these horror stories growing up about the visa application process, and when it comes time for you to apply yourself, you find out all these horror stories are true.”

But Muci said receiving an acceptance letter from the University expedites the visa process with U.S. officials. “They see that you’ve got an acceptance letter and once they verify that you can pay, then it’s great,” she said.

Admission to a well-known and prestigious institution like Brown can help students from Myanmar obtain U.S. visas, Su said.

Some students from countries that have hostile ties with the U.S. said financing their Brown educations can often be a complicated process.

“We don’t wire money from Iran,” Maghsoudlou said, adding that her parents use a U.S. bank account to pay her school fees. Maghsoudlou said she is unsure whether transferring funds from an Iranian bank account is even possible.

Su said accessing money from her home country of Myanmar — whose government has been criticized by democratic states for corruption and electoral tampering — can be difficult. Banks in Myanmar did not function effectively until a few years ago, she said.

“Money would be kept in your own home, and banks were largely not used,” said Su, whose own family uses a bank in Singapore in order to wire tuition money to the University. School counselors and directors sometimes wire funds for students from Myanmar who do not have access to international bank accounts, she said. “It’s a difficult and complicated process.”

“In Venezuela, dealing with (U.S.) dollars is prohibited,” Muci said. “You have to apply, and the government controls the dollars.” She added that there is a “black market” for U.S. currency in which prices are greatly inflated. A black market for U.S. dollars also exists in Iran, Maghsoudlou said.

Though gaining visas and transferring funds can be challenging, the transition to Brown offers a new academic model for some students from these countries. Maghsoudlou said Brown’s Open Curriculum and flexible environment aligned with her interests.

“In Iran, we don’t have college,” Maghsoudlou said, adding that Iranian high school students are funneled into professional schools based on their chosen occupations. “I didn’t want to do that, because I still wanted to explore,” she said.

Editor's note: Due to concerns about a student's safety, a paragraph about the process behind obtaining visas has been removed from the story.


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