Google Faculty Award for Dr Umar Saif (but still no visa)

Dec 7 UPDATE: Just heard from Dr Umar Saif, he got a call today from the embassy that his visa has arrived…

Dec 5: Prominent Pakistani scientist Dr Umar Saif has received a prestigious award for research work funded by the US State Department for the last three years – but the State Department has yet to grant him a visa that he applied for in September.

The $ 100,000 USD Google Faculty Research Award jointly given to Dr Umar Saif makes him the first faculty member in a Pakistani university to receive the competitive grant, awarded for the low-cost rural telephony systems that he has been working on for the past three years along with colleagues at UC Berkeley — Eric Brewer, VP of Infrastructure at Google, currently on leave from his work as Professor of Computer Science at UC Berkeley, Tapan Parikh, Assistant Professor at the iSchool at UC Berkeley and Kurtis Heimerl, a graduate student working with Dr Brewer. Dr Saif teaches at the Lahore University of Management Sciences from where he is currently on leave, working as the (youngest) Chairman of the Punjab Information Technology Board (PITB).

“We would like to thank you for submitting your proposal, ‘The Intelligent Telephony Access Point’, to our Google Research Awards program. We appreciate your patience, as we conduct a very thorough review of all the submissions that we receive, involving several teams of Google engineers and researchers.

“We are very pleased to inform you that we will support your proposal with an award in the amount of $100,000 USD,” says an email from Alfred Spector, Maggie Johnson, Jeff Walz, Jen Phillips, and David Harper of Google Inc., dated December 1, 2011.

The project is aimed at enabling communication “to coordinate rescue efforts during times of disaster when traditional communication systems may be unavailable.”

Ironically, the US State Department that has been funding his research has yet to grant Dr Saif a visa. He was unable to attend a conference at MIT in October because of this, as I wrote in my report on US visa weirdness.

Foreign scientists applying for US visas often have to go undergo an administrative screening process called Visas Mantis that slows down the process considerably, says Kathy Bailey Mathae, director of the Board on International Scientific Organizations (BISO), National Academy of Sciences (NAS). BISO works closely with the State Department to resolve visa issues related to scientists and science students.

One way of redress is a questionnaire that scientists or science students can submit if they haven’t heard about their visa at least 21 days after the date of their interview.

“We can highlight important cases for the State Department, but it may take up to 60 days,” she said. “It will never be ideal, but we have seen a lot of progress.”

Unfortunately, the progress hasn’t benefited Dr Saif, who has since filled and submitted the BISO questionaire, hoping to get the US visa in time for another conference in mid-November on Hot Topics in Networks. However, the visa remains elusive, even as awards come his way. Dr Saif ended up participating in the conference via a recorded presentation and Skype Q&A. How messed up can one system get?

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2 Responses

  1. […] Google Faculty Award for Dr Umar Saif (but still no visa) […]

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  2. Dec 7 UPDATE: Dr Umar Saif got a call today from the embassy that his visa has arrived!

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