The Telegraph
Wednesday , November 21 , 2012
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Visa denial irks students

- AASU threatens agitation, Sarma says application ‘pending’

Guwahati, Nov. 20: The denial of US visa to a meritorious student who had won a trip to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has infuriated student organisations in Assam.

Ratul Khan, a topper in the Assam high madrassa examinations 2012, was denied visa by the US Embassy and thus the chance to visit NASA under an educational training programme spon- sored by the Assam government.

The state government had announced in January that it would sponsor a trip to NASA for the toppers of matric and high madarsa examinations this year under the Debo Kumar Bora Memorial Nasa Visit 2012 award. Accordingly, it selected six matric toppers and one high madarsa topper for the US trip.

Ratul, a resident of Hajo in Kamrup district who passed his high madarsa exam from SAB High Madrassa, feels he has been denied the visa because he is a Muslim and had passed out of a madarsa.

“I went to Calcutta last month to appear for an interview for visa at the office of the US Consulate General and cleared all queries of US officials. On November 17, education department officials informed me that my visa had not been granted. This is very insulting for me and my family. I cannot visit NASA just because I am a Muslim,” he said.

However, six other meritorious students, including a Muslim, who topped in matric exam, have received visas and were given a ceremonial send-off today by chief minister Tarun Gogoi.

Activists of the All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) blocked the Hajo-Guwahati Road in Kamrup district for nearly an hour in protest against the denial of visa to Ratul and sought an assurance from the state government within 24 hours that he would make the trip.

Dibakar Kalita, adviser of AASU’s Hajo unit, said the denial of visa was an injustice and insult to a talented student like Ratul. He warned that the AASU would launch an agitation if Ratul’s visa was not confirmed at the earliest. The Asam Jatiyatabadi Yuba Chatra Parishad and the youth wing of All India United Democratic Front also opposed the incident.

Education minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said Ratul’s visa application was “pending” and the situation had nothing to do with his religion. “I am in touch with the US Consulate in Calcutta. Ratul will be sent to NASA once his visa is cleared,” he added.

The director of American Center in Calcutta, Jeffrey K. Reneau, told The Telegraph that the US Department of State was committed to facilitating legitimate travel and providing prompt and courteous service. “At the same time, we must ensure that applicants are both qualified for the visa and do not pose a security risk to the United States,” he added.

In an e-mail sent to the Guwahati office of The Telegraph, Reneau said though a vast majority of visa cases are reviewed within a week, some applicants require additional screening to determine whether they are eligible.

“The term administrative processing refers to various additional checks that must be done before their visas can be issued. Administrative processing does not mean that the US government has identified the applicant as a security risk. Many factors can trigger these checks,” the e-mail stated.