This is the VOA Special English EDUCATION REPORT.
American officials say they are working to reduce visa delays that have affected foreign science students, researchers and others. The delays involve a security clearance process called Visas Mantis. Through this program, different government agencies try to identify visa applicants who could threaten national security.
The aim is to protect American military technology or technology with possible military uses to other countries or to terrorists. A two thousand five report said that seventy percent of Mantis requests came from China, Russia and Ukraine.
The United States strengthened its visa requirements after the terrorist attacks in two thousand one. But the Visas Mantis program already existed by then. The State Department combined several programs dating to the Cold War into the current program in nineteen ninety-eight.
There have been delays before. Officials said the average processing time in October of two thousand three was seventy-five days. The wait was cut to fifteen days under pressure from Congress. But the wait time has increased again over the past year.
Andy Laine, a State Department spokesman, says the program now has more workers and new procedures. He says the changes went into effect on May twenty-ninth with the goal to process all requests within two weeks.
But he also says many visas are delayed because foreign students do not bring all their paperwork when requesting their travel documents. He advises students to make an appointment at an American embassy or consulate as soon as they are accepted to a school. They should take all their acceptance materials with them.
Higher education groups complained about the delays for foreign science students and scholars. So did professional groups that hold international conferences in the United States.
The delays may be one reason why graduate school applications from international students have slowed for the third year. Early findings show that applications rose just four percent from two thousand eight to two thousand nine.
The Council of Graduate Schools says this followed an increase of six percent last year and nine percent the year before that. International applications increased by twelve percent from two thousand five to two thousand six.
And that's the VOA Special English EDUCATION REPORT, written by Nancy Steinbach. Earlier reports in our Foreign Student Series are at voaspecialenglish.com. I'm Bob Doughty.