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Letter to international students

Dear International Student:

I wanted to take the time to welcome you to Harvard for the 2004-2005 academic year and to let you know that I am keenly aware of some of the visa-related challenges you and your colleagues have had to confront in recent years. We are certainly happy to have you as part of the Harvard community.

Over the past three years, new laws, increased regulation, and enhanced enforcement of border-security measures have had a significant impact on students seeking access to the United States. During that time, I have been increasingly concerned that the response to the September 11 tragedy has been inadvertently affecting our community because it requires our foreign students to endure protracted multi-agency clearance reviews. This view has been shared by colleagues with whom I have consulted across the country.

Last spring, I communicated these concerns to the secretaries of State and Homeland Security. Since then, the University has had productive conversations with various government officials as part of an ongoing effort to improve the visa-processing experience for our foreign students. We worked hard to identify for the government potential solutions to this problem and to alleviate the burden on our students without compromising legitimate national-security concerns.

Our own internal review of the impact of certain policy revisions indicates that there have been some improvements in the process. We are seeing shorter turnaround times for the processing of visas and greater communication between the government and higher education. Harvard will continue to work with government officials to improve our visa system further. It is therefore important for us to know how the system is currently working. If you have experienced particular hardships in your efforts to obtain a visa, please bring your situation to the attention of Sharon Ladd of the Harvard International Office. Her telephone number is 617-496-2812, and her email address is

As you may also know, effective September 1, 2004, the United States government began charging a $100 fee for international students seeking a visa to study here. The University has decided to reimburse international students in degree programs who have been or will be required to pay this fee. (Because of the implementation date, the new fee will not have affected the vast majority of you. If you have paid the fee, please contact the International Office for information about how to obtain the reimbursement.) We have taken this small step to underscore the essential role international students play in our community as well as our unwavering commitment to having the very best students from around the world study at Harvard.

Harvard has a long history of students from many different countries working side by side to discover cures for disease, to conduct cutting-edge and innovative research, and to advance scholarly knowledge. I firmly believe that it is fundamental to our academic mission that the doors of our University remain wide open and welcoming to students from around the world.

Again, welcome to Harvard. Best wishes for a productive and enriching year.


Larry Summers