penalizing ambition

Steve Clemon’s op-ed piece in the NY Times is all about the $100 visa application fee that international citizens have to pay, regardless of whether their visa is approved. The fee doesn’t vary from country to country, so it is disproportionately high in countries such as India. But $100 is a steep price to pay in any country.

In addition to the points brought up by Clemons, the delays in getting visas approved are ridiculous at US consulates in other countries. When I was interviewing at Caltech I met a student from Iran who told me he simply cannot go home because he would be delayed for a semester waiting for his visa there, whereas going to Mexico to renew is much easier.

A curious position I found myself in when reviewing graduate applications is that I was told to apply a much stricter standard to international applicants than I would for domestic applicants. I’m pretty sure they meant residents/nonresidents, but it may have also been citizen/non-citizen. I’m pretty sure that has to do with Berkeley being a state school, but I’ve been told that there is a lot of pressure to admit fewer international students even though they may be better candidates.

I’m not sure how I feel about all this yet — the visa thing I’m clearly against, but how to strike a balance between serving your constituency (US residents) and recruiting the best and the brightest (among all applicants) is tricky. It’s not really a case of affirmative action, so I don’t think the solutions should be the same. Although if you oppose affirmative action it seems that you should have to adopt the view of admitting only the best-qualified candidates regardless of nationality in order to remain philosophically consistent.

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