Student visas can be denied on grounds of national security. Beijing native Tan Ge, 25, believes he was snubbed after he stated his interests in infrared technology and nanoelectronics on his application. He said he now studies in Canada after being forced to abandon a full scholarship to Arizona State University.
By its very nature, the on-the-spot probe at the U.S. Embassy or a consulate can feel invasive to Chinese applicants, who are asked to tote their bank statements, property deeds, marriage licenses and hukou, a Chinese household identification card.
"It made me feel very uncomfortable," said Xu Yong, 28, a journalist who needed a business visa last month to cover a conference in New York. "They made me feel like someone from a Third World country up to no good."
After giving his fingerprints, Xu waited to be called for his interview, sitting in an area that was as quiet as a library. Each passing minute seemed to intensify the anticipation.
After an hour, Xu was called with three other people to a window for their interview. Two were rejected before his turn. Then the American officer, speaking fluent Chinese, reached for Xu's paperwork, asked some simple questions and said, "Congratulations."
"I was so nervous, the first thing I did when I got out was call my mom and tell her I passed," Xu said. "She was the one who warned me it wasn't going to be easy."
Nicole Liu and Tommy Yang in The Times' Beijing bureau contributed to this report.