Having obtained a prestigious Fulbright Scholarship, Rackham student Christina Davis was looking forward to studying language in India. She had already been to India five times to do preliminary research.
When Davis applied for a research visa last February, she expected to hear from the Indian government within three months.
After nine months, the government denied her request.
“I knew that many people had problems before, so it wasn’t a total shock, but it was definitely upsetting,” Davis said.
Davis is one of many students of late who have struggled to obtain a visa to conduct research in India as the Indian government makes it harder for students from abroad to study there. Amy Kehoe, a Fulbright advisor at the University, said many students have complained to the New York-based Institute for International Education – which administers the Fulbright Scholar Program – about the visa delays. Thirty-three students signed a petition asking Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to intervene.
Davis said she didn’t initially understand why the Indian government would reject her visa request. Her research topic – language ideologies in Mumbai schools – isn’t politically sensitive. Fulbright advisors told Davis that the Indian government might have rejected her visa request because the area in Mumbai where she wanted to work is poor and often dangerous. The Indian government doesn’t give a reason for denying visas.
The Fulbright Scholar Program – an exchange organization that sends students from the United States to perform research projects across the globe while allowing foreign students to conduct research here – usually sends about 100 scholars to India each year. About half of Fulbright scholars applying to study in India have been rejected in the last two years, The Indian Express newspaper reported.
The newspaper reported last month that 93 out of 100 American Fulbright applicants had their visas either rejected or delayed, preventing them from getting to India in time for their study.
The rise of the United Progressive Alliance party in national elections two years ago could be responsible for the visa denials and delays. Many in the Indian press have suggested that the party could be trying to crack down on research that could damage India’s reputation.
“It could be the matter of one difficult bureaucrat,” Davis said. “Visa authorization is so difficult to get because they’re worried that you’ll do research that would put India in a bad light.”
Davis reapplied for a visa in late November with a new research proposal – language socialization in Tirunelveli. She is still waiting to hear from the Indian government.
She also applied for a visa to Sri Lanka to study language socialization in Colombo schools. The Sri Lankan government has already given her permission to conduct research in the country. She plans to study there government rejects her visa request again.
“Now I have this new project,” Davis said. “I have no idea which project I’ll end up doing. It’s a difficult decision because they’re both promising projects.”
India is not the only country that rejects research visas based on topic, though.
Rackham student Kevin Jones earned a Fulbright scholarship to Egypt to study the Muslim Brotherhood, an opposition party to Hosni Mubarak’s regime. He said he thinks he was rejected because his topic was politically sensitive.
Jones realized soon after applying for the visa that his topic would likely be rejected.
“I was waiting and anticipating the denial so I could file the appeal,” Jones said.
Jones reapplied, asking the second time for permission to study modern Islamic history. He expected the Egyptian government to accept his proposal because the topic was more general, but he was rejected again.
He said he thinks the Egyptian government might have blacklisted him after his first visa application.
Jones said he isn’t worried about losing the chance to pursue his Fulbright scholarship.
“I’m sure I’ll have the chance to do it again,” he said. “I have some time here.”
By the Numbers
93 Number of applicants for Indian study visas out of 100 who recently had their requests delayed or denied.
50 Approximate percent of Fulbright scholars applying to study in India rejected in the last two years.
Source: The India Express Newspaper