Who is having visa problems reaching US conferences?

Many of the large machine learning conferences were in the US this summer. A common problem which students from abroad encounter is visa issues.
Just getting a visa to visit can be pretty rough: you stand around in lines, sometimes for days. Even worse is the timing with respect to ticket buying. Airplane tickets typically need to be bought well in advance on nonrefundable terms to secure a reasonable rate for air travel. When a visa is denied, as happens reasonably often, a very expensive ticket is burnt.

A serious effort is under way to raise this as in issue in need of fixing. Over the long term, effectively driving research conferences to locate outside of the US seems an unwise policy. Robert Schapire is planning to talk to a congressman. Sally Goldman suggested putting together a list of problem cases, and Phil Long setup an email address immigration.and.confs@gmail.com to collect them.

If you (or someone you know) has had insurmountable difficulties reaching a conference in the US, please send an email with:

Email address:
Details: (be brief please)

We expect most of the problem cases are students, so don’t be shy.

9 Replies to “Who is having visa problems reaching US conferences?”

  1. Why would it be unwise? Canada is not that far and we have lots of room in our igloos. Besides, I haven’t heard about any visa problem to come to Canada.

    Seriously, does it affect many people that te NIPS conference is held in Vancouver? If so, why? Due to the additional travel expense?

  2. Hum, are the comments modded or did my message just got lost ?

  3. (Sorry, the spam filter is a little bit rabid right now.)

    Canada is a pretty credible alternative conference location.

  4. It works both ways … I’ve had to skip travelling to Germany to present at ICML for fear of trouble when re-entering the US. I’m a grad student in the US who had great difficulty getting a student visa the first time around, and now my visa has expired (this doesn’t invalidate student status, just makes it impossible to leave and re-enter), and I don’t want to leave the US to re-apply and get rejected (which is highly likely for various reasons) in the middle of my PhD.

  5. I was going to say the same thing about Europe and Asia being problematic for people on US student visas. Renewing the US visa in a third country is not recommended, hence a trip outside the US forces one to go to the home country to renew the visa after the conference, which is touchy for some people.

    Canada is again an optimal solution: student visa holders in the US can travel to Canada and Mexico without having to obtain a new US visa (even if it is expired as long as they are in school). Canadian visas are also much easier to get.

  6. The same problem (travel outside the US forcing a home country visit to renew a visa) applys to many many post docs, not just students. In a 2.5 yr post doc I spent 2.5 months in my home country renewing visas.

  7. It must be noted that this is not just a problem for students, but for all postdocs/researchers/scholars coming from outside the “First World”.

    “hence a trip outside the US forces one to go to the home country to renew the visa after the conference, which is touchy for some people” touchy (!???) It costs tons of money (!), while many people from developing countries have to financially support their families and relatives…

    Thanks everyone for bringing this problem to light.

  8. Much as I like Canada as a conference destination, it doesn’t work for us from down under: the long-haul flights from Sydney to Canada tend to have a stopover in the US (Honolulu, San Francisco, or LA), and the US authorities force you to officially enter and leave their country even if you’re just connecting through, for the sole purpose of gathering data.

    What this means is that many of us need a US visa to go to NIPS. This past year we had a Malaysian student who didn’t receive his on time, and had to stay behind. Those who make it then have the pleasure of spending 3am-5am (Sydney time) in endless immigration then emigration lines at Honolulu.

    Another nice detail: the phone number you have to call to enquire about the progress of your visa application is a 900 number that costs a dollar a minute, and it takes about 10 minutes to get through to a live person – who then refuses to venture any prediction about when your visa may come through. You get exactly one bit of info for your $10 – either “yes, we have your visa, come pick it up” or “no, call again tomorrow”. Tight visa applications thus quickly rack up causing substantial phone bills.

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