The Government Accountability Office announced last week the United States has proposed a deal with China that would make it easier for Chinese students to study in the United States.

Under the proposed agreement, the length of a visa for Chinese students would be increased from six months to one year. According to Pap Sarr, director of the University of Wisconsin International Student Services, the agreement would allow China to continue to send more students to UW than any other country except Korea.

Following an approved visa, international students must undergo background checks, a process Sarr said takes an average of 67 days. Some students wait more than three months to receive their visas.

These intensive background checks are intended for students studying “sensitive topics,” which Sarr said tend to be science or “any major [in which government officials] believe there may be a transfer of technology.”

The waiting period for the visa can make life difficult for international students, and some face rejection.

“I … heard some heart-broken stories of visa rejection from my friends,” Jian Wang, a UW Ph.D. student, said.

Once Chinese student visas expire, many are reluctant to leave the United States, even to visit their families, for fear they will not be approved to reenter the country and complete their studies.

Ruhang Ding, a UW graduate student in materials sciences, said he learned this the hard way.

“I went back to China for winter break in December 2002 and wasn’t able to get back to Madison until January 2004 due to the visa-check process,” Ding said.

Wang said even leaving the United States to attend an academic conference requires months of planning and a $100 fee to apply for another visa.

“I am very glad to hear [of] the proposal,” Wang said. “This may help us … visit family in China or [attend] a conference in Europe.”

According to UW student Min Ni, visiting family over the summer may be a difficult task.

“I really want to visit my family this summer, but [I am] not sure because I am [studying] microbiology,” Ni said.

If China and the United States can reach an agreement soon, students like Ni might be able to visit home without risking their educations.

A Ph.D. student who preferred not to be identified said she was denied a visa three times before finally being approved.

Chinese students often need several years, hundreds of dollars and over a year to take tests and apply for fellowships and scholarships, she said. All of this is done prior to actually applying for a visa.

She added Chinese students oftentimes make contributions to American research. Difficulty in getting visas is leading many talented students to study in England and Canada instead of the United States, she said.