FU: This beam is from this mirror and this beam here...
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Yijing Fu is a graduate student at the University of Colorado in Boulder.
FU: Maybe we won't see anything out of that.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: A native of China, Fu has excelled for three years in the university's highly competitive engineering program.
SPOKESMAN: What happens if you play with little bit? Play with the angle a little bit and see...
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Fu's research in the United States could create a way to dramatically increase the amount of information sent on a single fiber-optic line.
SPOKESMAN: Hey, you got something there.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: But recently, Fu's academic career hit a major snag. When he went home to China to visit his wife, his return to the United States was put on hold. Fu learned that his visa had been sent to Washington, D.C., for a special federal government review, as part of the new heightened security measures put in place following 9/11. After six months of waiting, he was finally given the "okay" to return, but the loss of crucial research time was troubling to both the university and to Fu.
FU: I feel depressed, very depressed because my project is here, but I can do nothing about it.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: According to a survey by national educators, security delays like the kind that Yijing Fu experienced may be the reason many of the nation's top research universities are reporting a dramatic drop in applications for new foreign students, some down as much as 30 percent. Vic Johnson is with the Association of International Educators, one of the survey's sponsors.
VIC JOHNSON: The visa process is just unwelcoming. People seem to be coming to the conclusion that it's too hard to get into this country.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: The picture was particularly grim for doctoral and research institutions, with nearly 60 percent reporting a decline in applications.
VIC JOHNSON: People in the sciences, particularly graduate students, advanced graduate students, scholars, researchers, are subject to special screening. But after 9/11, as part of this sense that, "boy, we just got to institute every control we can think of to make sure that we're protecting ourselves against another disaster," what's happened is the number of applications that are sent to Washington has increased 20 times.
SPOKESMAN: ...Times a-squared, over epsilon zero.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Fu's adviser, University of Colorado engineering Professor Frank Barnes, is frustrated with the government's heightened security. He says overly cautious officials have put university grant money in jeopardy.
FRANK BARNES: What's happening is that you've got a situation. Let's suppose you are a clerk in Washington., if make a mistake and let a terrorist in, you're in big trouble. On the other hand, if Yijing doesn't finish his thesis, it doesn't cost you a thing.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: As many as half of Barnes' graduate students are from foreign countries. Nationally, 13 percent of graduate students in the United States are from abroad.
FRANK BARNES: It's going to cost the United States in a big way. A large part of what's happened in the electronics industry in the United States... one of the reasons we're the leaders in the world in this area, or have been, is because of many of the people that have come to the United States as immigrants, or come as students, and they made major contributions.
VIC JOHNSON: For the scientific fields it mean that the best scientific talent is going to other countries, instead of this to participate in joint research at the frontiers of science. Our leadership in science depends on those people wanting to come here.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Just south of the University of Colorado the prestigious Colorado School of Mines is reporting similar problems. Like many students at the School of Mines, student Ahmed Bukhamsin and Bachari Aloda came here to study petroleum engineering. Both are from Saudi Arabia and are sponsored by the Saudi oil company, Aramco. And both experienced long visa delays trying to return to the United States after they made trips home. Academics a the Colorado School of Mines worry that they are losing lucrative foreign student scholarships from companies like Aramco. Leslie Olsen is the director of international student and scholarship services.
LESLIE OLSEN: Most of our students are sponsored by the government or an oil company. And so they're choosing to go to school in Canada, England, because they're not having as many problems getting a visa, and the parents are afraid for them to come to the U.S. because they hear the stories about harassment or they feel they might be in danger and the hassle that they have to go through.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Officials at the State Department say they are aware of reported visa delays and are working to speed things up. They point out that it is not just student but all visa requests that are being scrutinized. Maura Harty is assistant secretary for consulate affairs.
MAURA HARTY: We want to expedite those processes because we want students to come to the United States. We simply will always be engaged in a balance between, as Secretary Powell describes it, secure borders and open doors. ( Chanting )
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Since the visa troubles experienced by Meshari Alodah, and others last year, State Department officials say they eliminated many of the visa delays. They say they, too, realize the role foreign students play in spreading cultural understanding.
MAURA HARTY: We are not interested in hurting somebody who was in here, not only obviously spending money at an American academic institution, but learning about America. We want to give them the right impression about America. We need those younger people to come and learn about America, not through the prism of a foreign television station or foreign media, but through the experience of living in this lively, raucous, phenomenally interesting democracy that is America.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: For now, universities are anxiously awaiting their foreign student enrollment numbers for next fall.