US cancels education visas of some Saudi students

Some of these students have been sent back on arrival at American airports or from transit stations before boarding flights to the US

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US immigration authorities have nullified education visas of some Saudi foreign scholarship students during this academic year. Some of these students have been sent back on arrival at American airports or from transit stations before boarding flights to the US.

Meanwhile, another group of Saudi students have received email messages from the American Consulate in Dhahran informing them that their education visas have been canceled. These students were in the Kingdom to spend their summer vacation.

The students have been informed that they have to apply for new visas.

“The US move would affect studies of these Saudi students either completely or they will lose at least one or two semesters. Many of them have been waiting for new visas for the past several months,” an informed source told Makkah Arabic newspaper.

One affected student was stopped by security authorities in Detroit airport to know about his connections with Hezbollah following his visit to Lebanon about six years ago.

Hafiz Al-Zakari, a member of “Saudis in America” told the Arabic daily that the cancellation of education visas of Saudi students was continuing for the past one year. Al-Zakari’s group has been providing consultation and support services to Saudi students for the past several years.

“The Saudi Cultural Attache in the US cannot provide any assistance to Saudis on the issue of education visa cancellation because the issue is related to the Immigration Department,” Al-Zakari said.

However, he pointed out the attaché can communicate with US authorities to speed up issuance of new visas. “They can also contact the Saudi Education Ministry to change the place of study to another country in case the US Immigration Department refuses to issue them new visas.”

Al-Zakari cited three possible reasons for the cancellation of education visas. First, if a student has changed his university, he has to return to Saudi Arabia and get a new visa mentioning the new university’s name. If he/she fails to make that change his/her visa would be canceled as per the law.

Second, if the visa validity has expired he/she would not be allowed to enter the US. Third, if he/she appears in the list of suspects without any clear reason or their name looks similar to that of a wanted militant. Suspicious movements or behavior at the airport may also lead to visa cancellation.

Farazdaq Al-Basari, who was accompanying his sister and was studying for electrical engineering, said his visa was canceled while he was in Amsterdam airport, before boarding his flight to Detroit.

An American official at the airport called him and asked him about the change in the name of university in the visa stamped in the passport and the one in the computer.

“I studied language in one university and then I got admission for electrical engineering in another university while he was legally staying in the US. My visa was valid but the official canceled my visa and asked me to return to the Kingdom. I have applied for a new visa at the US Consulate in Dhahran and waiting for its reply,” he told Makkah newspaper.

Mohammed Al-Zuraiqi, a business management student, said: “I was shocked to receive an email message from the US consulate last Ramadan saying my visa has been canceled and that I have to apply for a new visa without giving any reasons. I am still awaiting the consulate’s reply regarding my application for the new visa.”

Habeeb Al-Zuraiqi, another student, was stopped at Detroit airport where security agencies asked him to give his mobile phone for inspection and saw the photo of Shiite leader Abdul Hameed Muhajiri. “They asked me who is this Shiite leader and why I have saved his photo in my mobile. I told them that it was sent by a WhatsApp group. They also asked me about my visit to Lebanon six months ago.

Al-Zuraiqi told US authorities that he visited Lebanon for tourism with his family when he was small. The official then asked about his connection with Hezbollah and canceled his visa. He was put in an individual cell for one day before deporting him to the Kingdom.

Al-Zuraiqi was informed that he is banned to enter the US for five years. He is still astounded for having lost opportunity to continue his studies in the US. “I have not violated any US laws,” he said.

Dr. Mohammed Al-Eissa, Saudi cultural attaché in Washington, said only a few number of Saudi students faced the visa cancellation problem. He asked those students to contact the attaché in order to communicate with US authorities to find a solution for the problem.

He emphasized that the Saudi Education Ministry would help these affected students to change countries for their studies if US authorities deny them new visas.

This article was first published by the Saudi Gazette on Aug. 23, 2016.

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