U.S. Embassy Blocking Hopkins Sister City Trip, Organizers Say

The State Department says the Ukrainian students need a different type of visa in order to visit Minnesota.

The U.S. Embassy is standing in the way of a Hopkins sister city exchange trip that is supposed to happen this fall, according to program organizers.

Although the embassy granted security clearance for the Ukrainians who are supposed to visit Minnesota between Sept. 15 and Oct. 13, it denied their request for visitors visas because it said they need student exchange visas instead, said Richard Fursman, president of executive search firm Brimeyer Fursman and one of the sister city organizers.

“It is completely baffling,” Fursman said.

The Ukraine/Minnesota Civic Leadership Engagement Program for Youth is intended to bring young civic leaders together to learn from one another. Students from Hopkins’ sister city of Boryspil learn about community engagement in Minnesota, and the American students learn about challenges faced in an emerging democracy.

Organizers had found 20 families willing to provide a bed and daily meals and share their lives with the visiting students.

But that is appearing less and less likely to happen.

The Civic Leadership Engagement Program for Youth doesn’t have the capacity to obtain student exchange visas, Fursman said. The visas are more expensive and require going through an organization specially licensed as “Student and Exchange Visitor Program certified.”

But mostly, Fursman contends that type of visa doesn’t apply to the civic leadership program.  While students do take part in school activities, studying in school is not the emphasis. The Boryspil visitors will participate in civic leadership development activities and share their perspectives, hopes and challenges with the Minnesota youth.

Fursman said the State Department’s request to apply under the student exchange program is essentially asking them to lie.

“The way we operate is not to go into the school and learn U.S. history. They’re here on a much broader mission,” he said. “It would be fraudulent on our part to fill it out as a student exchange.”

Hopkins Patch is still attempting to get in touch with the State Department. The agency’s website states that, “The Exchange Visitor Program [which includes student exchange programs] promotes mutual understanding between the people of the United States (U.S.) and the people of other countries by educational and cultural exchanges, under the provisions of U.S. law.”

By contrast, the International Cultural Exchange Visitor visa “is for certain international cultural exchange programs designed to provide practical training and employment, and sharing of the history, culture, and traditions of participants home country in the U.S.”

Organizers contacted both of Minnesota’s senators for help but received the same answer as they got from the State Department: They’d need to apply for the other visa.

Still, those involved aren’t giving up hope just yet. Students, schools, the Boryspil mayor and the Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs have all contacted the U.S. Embassy.

“It’s been an avalanche of participation by organizations and individuals to try to plead the case: Let’s call it what it is and not try to make it what you want it to be,” Fursman said.


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