Would studying certain subfield in physics affect F1 visa application?

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wucun667
Posts: 6
Joined: Wed Mar 07, 2018 10:47 pm

Would studying certain subfield in physics affect F1 visa application?

Postby wucun667 » Tue Mar 27, 2018 10:47 am

Hey guys, I'm wondering if certain subfield in physics would put you in the risk of visa being checked? I have talked with a few international PhD students, and a biophysics PhD said his US visa got checked each year. A chemistry PhD also said many of his chemistry PhD fellows had experience of visa checked (he passed though, but he said it was very rare). :shock: After some research I found that studying biology and chemistry related subject would almost certainly risk your visa of being checked (this rule might only apply to the "sensitive" countries such as China, Russia, Iran...I don't know).

May anybody share your knowledge about which "sensitive" subfield in physics could affect international student's visa? Would condensed matter and astrophysics be "safer"? Would theoretical and computational physics be "safer" than experiment or vice versa? Any knowledge or experience is more than welcome! :D :D

Note: Just in case anybody is confused, when I said "visa checked" I mean the US ambassy needs to do a background check for the applicant. Typically (at least this is the case in China mainland) the F1 student visa is valid for five years, but after a background check the F1 validity is reduced to one year. It usually takes at least a month for the visa to be passed if checked, which means the applicant cannot return to US before the visa is passed, and s/he needs to reapply the F1 visa once every year...

Thank you so much guys for reading through my post! Feel free to share your knowledge! Anything is welcome :D

TakeruK
Posts: 935
Joined: Mon Jan 02, 2012 3:05 pm

Re: Would studying certain subfield in physics affect F1 visa application?

Postby TakeruK » Tue Mar 27, 2018 12:48 pm

There are many reasons why this may happen, some of which involve your field of research but it could also be due to things like your travel history, your relationship with other people on some secret US list, your country of origin, your own history etc.

I have heard that many people run into a lot more issues whenever their research topic sounds like it could be related to weapons or other advanced technology that the USA wants to protect. For physics and related fields, the most common example words are "nuclear" and "atomic". This applies even if you're using the scientific definition of these words that aren't related to weapons at all. For example, if a student is studying the atmospheric content of Mars, I would avoid using terminology like, "I am studying the atoms in the Martian atmosphere". I would probably even avoid similar sounding words, such as "neutron star". But in any case, I don't think you should change your field of study because of this. Just practice what you want to say when describing your research. The more the other person understands, the less likely they will be threatened by it.

wucun667 wrote:Typically (at least this is the case in China mainland) the F1 student visa is valid for five years, but after a background check the F1 validity is reduced to one year. It usually takes at least a month for the visa to be passed if checked, which means the applicant cannot return to US before the visa is passed, and s/he needs to reapply the F1 visa once every year...


Just to clarify though, you do not have to reapply for the F-1 visa once every year even if you only have a 1-year F-1 visa. You only need the visa to enter the USA, you don't need the visa to remain in the USA. There are actually two parts to your official status in the US. There is the F-1 visa, which you have already discussed, and it's a page that goes into your passport. There is also the F-1 status, which you use your I-20 issued by your school plus supporting documents to prove that you are legally present in the USA. The I-20 will have an expiry date based on your program's end date, and this is independent of your visa expiry date.

So yes, the shorter visa means extra wait for the first visa. But you only have to apply for another F-1 visa if you leave the USA after your original visa expires. This is still super annoying and frustrating of course, because if you travel outside of the USA for a conference, you will have to either take a longer trip to get the visa approved or apply for a new visa before you leave. When I was in the US, many of my friends with limited entry visas will do a Third Country Visa application (in Canada or Mexico) a few months before an international conference, or they might plan a trip to visit home a few months before a conference (and apply for a visa then). Some people also decide to go to the international conference, then visit home for a few weeks and apply for the visa then. Also, I know some people who initially had a 1-year visa but then got a longer visa later on.

pulsaric
Posts: 8
Joined: Sat Mar 24, 2018 6:31 am

Re: Would studying certain subfield in physics affect F1 visa application?

Postby pulsaric » Tue Mar 27, 2018 6:04 pm

As someone who will likely be looking at the tidal deformability of binary neutron stars, that's interesting to note.. I wonder if I should use "really dense dead stars" instead.

TakeruK
Posts: 935
Joined: Mon Jan 02, 2012 3:05 pm

Re: Would studying certain subfield in physics affect F1 visa application?

Postby TakeruK » Wed Mar 28, 2018 3:34 pm

pulsaric wrote:As someone who will likely be looking at the tidal deformability of binary neutron stars, that's interesting to note.. I wonder if I should use "really dense dead stars" instead.


Personally, I would make that choice. In addition to the "neutron" potentially raising flags, "neutron star" is a jargon term anyways and I wouldn't use that phrase even when casually talking to another non-astronomer scientist. The more the person can understand, the better/smoother the interview will go and the less likely you will get incorrectly flagged for "sensitive" research.

Don't be surprised if the person has some working knowledge of the topic though! I work with planets and I've had many border agents ask follow-up questions that are quite thoughtful and/or they want to discuss a recent news story they read on planets with me. I think part of this is their job: they want to engage you in normal conversation because if you are super nervous/hiding something, it can be revealed. But also remember that these agents are also human and they have their own interests outside of their work, which might even be astronomy!

That said, most of the advice you see online and that I'll give lean on the "better safe than sorry side" because US border agents have a lot of power. They have the final say on whether you get admitted (even if you have everything else in order). I don't want to de-humanize them and to be honest, 90% of my border crossings have been very very good interactions with the agents. Still, I personally choose to stick with my strategy but be open to warming up if they show more interest :)

wucun667
Posts: 6
Joined: Wed Mar 07, 2018 10:47 pm

Re: Would studying certain subfield in physics affect F1 visa application?

Postby wucun667 » Sat Mar 31, 2018 12:24 pm

Hey TakeruK, thank you so much! Your reply is so detailed and indeed helps to clear many of my doubts and confusions! :D :D It seems a "scary" talk 8) with the agents is lying ahead of me, but I'll try my best!
And pulsaric, I think you should not even use "dead star", since it implies you are going to study the "death star" that blew up Alderaan :P




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