"Scientist's Visa Denial Sparks Outrage in India," by Shankar Vedantam - the Washington Post, 23 Feb 2006 (registration required)
A decision two weeks ago by a U.S. consulate in India to refuse a visa to a prominent Indian scientist has triggered heated protests in that country and set off a major diplomatic flap on the eve of President Bush's first visit to India.
The incident has also caused embarrassment at the highest reaches of the American scientific establishment, which has worked to get the State Department to issue a visa to Goverdhan Mehta, who said the U.S. consulate in the south Indian city of Chennai told him that his expertise in chemistry was deemed a threat.
In the face of outrage in India, the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi issued a highly unusual statement of regret, and yesterday the State Department said officials are reaching out to the scientist to resolve his case.
"It is very strange logic," said Mehta, reached at his home in Bangalore early this morning India time. "Someone is insulted and hurt and you ask him to come back a second round."
The consulate told Mehta "you have been denied a visa" and invited him to submit additional information, according to an official at the National Academy of Sciences who saw a copy of the document. Mehta said in a written account obtained by The Washington Post that he was humiliated, accused of "hiding things" and being dishonest, and told that his work is dangerous because of its potential applications in chemical warfare.
Mehta denied that his work has anything to do with weapons. He said that he would provide his passport if a visa were issued, but that he would do nothing further to obtain the document: "If they don't want to give me a visa, so be it."
The scientist told Indian newspapers that his dealing with the U.S. consulate was "the most degrading experience of my life." Mehta is president of the International Council for Science, a Paris-based organization comprising the national scientific academies of a number of countries. The council advocates that scientists should have free access to one another.
Visa rejections or delays for foreign academics after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks have led to widespread complaints by U.S universities and scientific organizations, but the new incident comes when things are improving, said Wendy White, director of the Board of International Scientific Organizations. The board was set up by the National Academy of Sciences and has helped about 3,000 scientists affected by the new policies.
"This leaves a terrible impression of the United States," said White, who has seen a copy of the consulate's form letter to Mehta. In an interview yesterday, she added that top scientists had worked with senior State Department officials to reverse the decision before Bush's visit next week. "We want people to know the U.S. is an open and welcoming country."
Mehta's case has especially angered Indians because he was a director of the Indian Institute of Science and is a science adviser to India's prime minister. He has visited the United States "dozens of times," he said, and the University of Florida in Gainesville had invited him to lecture at an international conference.
State Department spokesman Justin Higgins denied yesterday that the United States had rejected Mehta's visa and said the consulate had merely followed standard procedure in dealing with applicants with certain kinds of scientific expertise.
In his written account, the scientist said that after traveling 200 miles, waiting three hours with his wife for an interview and being accused of deception, he was outraged when his accounts of his research were questioned and he was told he needed to fill out a detailed questionnaire.
"I indicated that I have no desire to subject myself to any further humiliation and asked that our passports be returned forthwith," he wrote. The consular official, Mehta added, "stamped the passports to indicate visa refusal and returned them."...
Click here to go to the Web page with AmEmbassy - New Delhi's statement on the visa denial.
(Click here to see a press release from the American Historical Association's press release protesting another visa denial, this one involving a Bolivian scholar who could not accept a position at the University of Nebraska when his visa request was rejected.)
"US Approves Visa for Indian Scientist," by Shankar Vedantam - the Washington Post, 24 Feb 2006 (registration required)
State Department officials said yesterday that the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi has granted a visa to a prominent Indian scientist who said he was accused of deception and potential links to chemical weapons production when he applied to a U.S. consulate.
Goverdhan Mehta said he was told two weeks ago that his visa had been "refused" and that his expertise in chemistry could be a threat to U.S. national security. The case caused a furor in India just days before a visit by President Bush next week that is aimed at building warmer ties between the world's two largest democracies.
Reached at his home, however, Mehta said that he had already canceled his travel plans and declined a visiting professorship at the University of Florida in Gainesville. He said the issuance of a visa will not change his decision.
"The issues are much more than giving me a visa," said Mehta, who is the president of the International Council for Science, whose members are the national scientific academies of many countries. "Humiliating experience apart, even the thought I could be denied a visa -- I could not have imagined it."
In a statement, the International Council for Science expressed "grave concern at the hostile treatment" of Mehta at the U.S. Consulate in Madras. "It clearly illustrates that, despite some progress, all is far from well with regards to the visa policies and associated practices for scientists wishing to enter the USA," the organization said.
State Department officials maintained that although Mehta was given a form letter saying "you have been refused a visa," it was not a rejection but rather part of a conditional process aimed at obtaining additional information.
Mehta declined to provide the additional information, which U.S. officials say is required by law. He said he told consular officials to check his Web site if they wished to learn about his scientific work. Officials declined to comment on where the information to approve the visa came from, saying that such details are confidential.
Consular officials have to refer visa applications of scientists with certain kinds of expertise to Washington for review by qualified experts, Adam Ereli, a State Department spokesman, said yesterday. He said the review of Metha's application had been completed and that a visa had been approved.
"We try to treat everybody fairly. We certainly think we did so in this case, frankly. And we look forward to him having a good trip to the United States," Ereli said.
Tony Edson, deputy assistant secretary for visa services, said the review is designed to reduce the risk that foreign experts could come to the United States, learn about sensitive technology and take the information with them. Most reviews result in a visa being issued, he said, and the department has greatly accelerated them.
Edson acknowledged that many visa seekers have a very different impression of the application process, a difference that he said could be partly traced to the crush of applications from countries such as India.
Mehta and another Indian scientist, P.C. Kesavan, a Madras geneticist specializing in radiation biology who was also refused a visa unless he provided detailed information about his background and the potential applications of his work, said senior scientists have better things to do with their time.
"I feel humiliated about the whole process," said Kesavan, who charged that officials in the Madras consulate were high-handed, indifferent or rude. "If this is the case, I am not so keen on coming to your country."...
"Scientist Alleges Humiliation by US Consulate," by Jayaraj Sivan - the Mumbai Mirror (Mumbai (Bombay), India), 24 Feb 2006
Chennai: A Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) scientist has complained of humiliation by US consulate officials in Chennai on Tuesday.
P C Kesavan, serving on DAE’s Homi Bhabha Chair on Nuclear Science and Rural Society at M S Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF), says he was made to wait for nearly three hours outside the consulate, partly in the hot sun, before being asked to fill up a questionnaire.
This was despite being ‘a visiting professor in half-a-dozen foreign universities. “I have visited the US more than a dozen times. This is the first time that I have been called for a personal interview for a visa,” Kesavan said. “I had applied for a visa to participate in an international seminar [i]n Washington. But I was treated very badly by the consulate authorities. Before leaving, I told the lady consul who attended my case that I was not keen on visiting her country if this was the way they treated Indians.”
"Mulford Apologises to Mehta for Delay in Providing US Visa" - PTI (Press Trust of India), 24 Feb 2006, as posted to OutlookIndia.com
US Ambassador David C Mulford today expressed his apologies to nuclear scientist Goverdhan Mehta for the delay in providing him a US visa, which was issued today.
"The US Embassy is pleased to note that a visa for Professor Goverdhan Mehta was issued today," an Embassy statement said here.
It said Ambassador Mulford called Professor Mehta on Thursday to notify him and express both his apologies and satisfaction that a visa would be issued immediately.
Processing of Mehta's visa had been suspended pending its review in Washington, it said adding that the review had been concluded.
In Washington, State Department Deputy Spokesman Adam Ereli said there was never a refusal of visa to Mehta.
"Because Professor Mehta is engaged in the sciences and in the kind of research... -- a specific kind of research, US law requires us, in order to be able to issue a visa, to get some information about his activities and the purposes of his visit." Ereli said the application was reviewed and the decision was made to issue the visa.