- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 26, 2002

Shelly Seaver had sent wedding invitations, reserved the church, bought her dress and found a photographer. But there was no groom.
It's not that Nikita Osipenko, from Yekaterinburg in central Russia, didn't want to marry her. He couldn't, at least not in the United States. His visa application was caught up in a State Department backlog that officials say is now beginning to clear up.
Since summer, thousands of students, scientists and fiancees from countries unconnected to last year's terrorist attacks, particularly China and Russia, had their visa applications held up while the U.S. government expanded its security checks and fine-tuned a visa system that let in the September 11 hijackers.
Mr. Osipenko's application lingered for four months, forcing his fiancee to postpone their wedding.
Repeatedly told by the Moscow consulate to "call back in a week," Mr. Osipenko left his job and didn't look for a new one, convinced the approval would come through soon. It finally did right before Thanksgiving, and he was able to join the woman he met while she was a U.S. Fulbright scholar in Yekaterinburg.
"Bureaucracy is immortal," Mr. Osipenko said from his new home in Arlington, where bureaucratic thoughts were far from his mind as the couple made final preparations for a civil ceremony. They were married last Friday.
The State Department blames the delays on the additional security clearances required by law enforcement, intelligence and other federal agencies. Now, better coordination among agencies is helping clear the logjam, it says.
The department's security database of suspects and criminals has more than doubled since September 11 with more names submitted by the CIA, FBI and other agencies, said consular-affairs spokesman Stuart Patt.
The recent snags partially hark back to July, when the State Department had to recall some 100 visas after security agencies said further checks were needed.
Before that incident, most nonimmigrant visas were approved within 30 days if security or law enforcement agencies raised no objection, Mr. Patt said. To meet the demand for security clearances, that deadline is now gone.
The delays often four to six months meant canceled business trips, empty desks in fall college classes, scientific research impaired and postponed weddings.
Applicants and those waiting for them in the United States were exasperated at the explanations from government officials.
"You don't get any answers at all. It's like dealing with a black hole," said Kip Thorne, a physics professor at the California Institute of Technology. His Russian colleague, Vladimir Braginsky, arrived three months late to advise on a U.S.-government-funded project to detect and monitor a new kind of gravitational radiation.
"Dealing with the Russian bureaucracy during the Cold War was a lot easier than dealing with this," Mr. Thorne said.
Mr. Braginsky, 71, said about 20 scientists from Moscow State University, where he teaches physics, did not receive visas in time to attend conferences or do research in the United States.
The National Academy of Sciences had to postpone an annual meeting in November with its Chinese counterparts, and fewer people were able to attend when it was rescheduled a couple of weeks later, said academy spokesman Bill Skane.
In recent weeks, more than 5,000 Chinese received security clearances from Washington. The U.S. Consulate in Guangzhou is working overtime to produce the necessary documents.
In Malaysia, the consulate has received hundreds of approvals for students and is working to process the visas.
"For the most part, we are pretty much up to date on these cases that required clearances," Mr. Patt said.
Still, at least dozens in China, mostly brides-to-be, remain without visas.
Roger Adkins, 54, from Hollywood, Fla., met his fiancee, Haibing Li, 40, on the Internet and proposed to her during a trip to China. She and her 13-year-old son were slated to receive visas in early August, but had not heard from the consulate as of this week.
"She's never had a traffic citation. Her record is spotless. What are they going to find? Nothing," said Mr. Adkins.

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