Abroad program faces visa debacle

by John Potratz, The Badger Herald
Wednesday, November 9, 2005

University of Wisconsin students set to travel abroad to Spain this spring now face uncertain plans.

Due to lack of staff members and policies brought on by the 2004 Madrid train bombings, the Spanish Consulate in Chicago recently declared they would no longer accept appointments for student visas this semester.

But officials from the Division of International Studies said Tuesday they are pursuing all available options to ensure students receive visas to travel abroad. Students calling to schedule an appointment with the consulate have been told they could not be fit in until February 2006, nearly a month after their program is set to begin.

UW junior Blake Arnold, set to study abroad in Spain this spring, said with all the stress and time put into the application process, it’s “kind of disappointing that we might not be able to go.”

Because students are required to obtain a student visa before traveling to the country, many UW students and those from other Midwestern universities fear they will not be able to spend their well-planned semester overseas.

“It’s hard when you put all this work [and] hours and hours, and then you’re kind of out of luck,” Arnold said.

After hearing about the predicament through program emails and the consulate’s website, Arnold, an international business major — which requires students to spend a semester abroad — was only able to secure an appointment on Feb. 3.

As far as possibly setting an earlier appointment, Arnold has been unsuccessful working on his own.

“They haven’t responded to me yet,” Arnold said. “It’s always busy. When I call, they don’t answer … so I’m out of the loop on this thing.”

Thankfully, international studies and Spanish program officials are working diligently on a number of possible solutions to the issue.

Since finding out about the situation within the last two weeks, the associate dean in the Division of International Studies, Catherine Meschievitz, said the department has been working diligently with their national study-abroad groups and other agencies in Washington, D.C., to try to persuade the Spanish Foreign Ministry to influence the Chicago consulate into making acceptations for the remaining students in need of visas.

“What we’re really hoping, of course, is they’ll open things up earlier for either an individual or group appointment so things can get resolved much earlier,” she said.

Meschievitz said by making a group appointment, one individual from the division could travel to the consulate and retrieve all of the students’ visas at once.

The division has a group appointment set for January, but is vying for an earlier date. If individual students or the division were forced to accept later appointments, Meschievitz said the various Spanish programs at the UW could be scheduled to start later.

However, if none of the alternatives would work out, it is possible students would be denied from participating in the program this spring.

“I can’t say that’s not a possibility,” Meshievitz said “We’re shooting to get all of our students to Spain. That would be a worst-case scenario.”

In the meantime, Meshievitz said students should remain calm and updated with their advisors.

“The most practical thing for them to do is follow instructions from their study abroad advisors,” she said. “Panicking and being upset doesn’t accomplish anything.”

Meshievitz added students should not seek drastic measures, such as attempting to travel there with a tourist visa.