Following two denied visa applications, GDS Chinese teacher Min Wang learned she must return to China after spending seven years in the United States. Days later, Dr. Wang learned that her case was reopened by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, allowing her to stay and teach in the U.S. pending further examination.
In 2017, she filed for an EB-1A visa, which is for people with advanced degrees who have extraordinary levels of skills and talent. Just in case her visa application was denied, she filed for a secondary visa known as O-1A, which is also for people with extraordinary ability and achievements.
After receiving her doctoral degree, Wang did post-doctoral work at Harvard University. She is also a published author and has taught at Harvard, Swarthmore College and the University of North Dakota. At the University of North Dakota, Wang started the first online Chinese language courses in the state and spearheaded the university’s Chinese language program. When Wang first started at the University of North Dakota, there were only five students enrolled in Chinese. She developed the program into fifty students in one semester.
In order to receive her visas, Wang had to submit evidence of extraordinary work, such as proof of authorship, examples of contributions to the University of North Dakota, top national media coverage and evidence of a national award. As a published author of a book in Chinese literary historiography, Wang’s authorship was approved by the Texas Service Center of the USCIS but denied by the Vermont Service Center of the USCIS. The other components, however, were not approved. USCIS did not give reasons for their denial.
In 2012, Wang was awarded a top national grant from the National Social Sciences Foundation of China. Only people with PhDs and the highest level of qualifications can apply. She said to show how prestigious this award is, she included in her visa application three support letters from world-renowned scholars. Each year only 3,000 scholars are given this award among approximately 30,000 applicants in China.
Even though numerous newspapers, including China Daily, the largest English-language newspaper from China with millions of subscribers, have published stories about her work, the USCIS claimed not to be able to find media coverage of her work.
Despite having the support of North Dakota senators, congressmen and governors, Wang’s case was denied.
“The Chancellor of the State Board of Higher Education in North Dakota clearly said in a letter that I played a critical role at UND and made contributions to the school in many different ways,” Wang said in an interview. “All of this evidence was ignored.”
When both applications were denied, Associate Head of School Kevin Barr said that the applications appeared as if they had not been thoroughly reviewed.
“They claimed they couldn’t find news articles about her even though if you Google her, it shows up,” Barr said.
Wang said her name had even been misspelled on the documents.
“My name is Min but the officer spelled it Ming. In my denial notice, they said they cannot find the article under my name,” she said. “It is just ridiculous. That just shows how careless they have been in reading the documents my lawyer and I have spent months preparing.”
After speaking with lawyers, Barr said that there has been a significant increase within the past year of requests for additional information in visa applications, extending the process and making it more difficult to be granted a visa.
“I would argue that maybe we should not have been surprised given the present political climate,” Barr said. “Just because we are not surprised does not mean we are happy or okay because we think Wang is terrific and brings an enormous amount to the school. It is rare for someone to be here for less than two months in and for students to feel as strongly connected as they do.”
Senior Jamie Hedlund, a student in Wang’s Advanced Topics in Chinese Studies class, said Wang deserves to stay in America because she is a kind, hardworking person.
“I have been taking Chinese since sixth grade and she is by far the best language teacher I’ve ever had,” Hedlund said. “The GDS community and American society at large would be at a loss if she was forced to return to China.”
Although Hedlund only had Wang as a teacher for two months, he said his favorite thing about Wang is her drive to see her students learn.
“It was clear to me that she cared about me as a student and wanted to see me succeed in her class,” Hedlund said. “She would always make time to meet with a student if they were struggling with the material. It is this compassion that makes it particularly hard for our class to see Wang Laoshi [Teacher Wang] go through her current situation.”
Senior Max Cowan, also in Wang’s Advanced Topics class, said he believes Wang deserves to stay because of all she has accomplished in her career. Cowan said his favorite thing about Wang is her sense of humor and dedication to teaching her students Chinese.
“She truly inspires me to take in all that I can from not only her class, but also by surrounding myself with Chinese in my everyday life,” Cowan said. “She has a vision for remodeling the Chinese curriculum at GDS and I already see how much it’s impacting the community through the reemergence of the Chinese Culture Club to adding more Mandarin language books in the library.”
Junior Kate Strong, who is also in Wang’s Advanced Topics in Chinese Studies class, described Wang as an excellent teacher who makes her enjoy going to class every day. Strong said that, during class, Wang would often talk about her son, Max Wang, who is an eighth-grader at the GDS Middle School and a Chinese citizen. Wang’s son is part of the GDS 360 debate team, an after-school enrichment program at the Middle School, and won first place in the first-ever D.C. Urban Debate League. His skills helped GDS dominate and sweep the first six spots of the tournament.
“Not only does Min deserve to stay, but her son deserves to stay as well,” Strong said.
To show support for Wang, junior Viraj Prakash and classmates created a Change.org petition, entitled “Visa for our Chinese Teacher, Min Wang,” to raise awareness about Wang’s situation.
“We, as her students and members from her school community, vouch for her strong ability to teach effectively and her compassion for those she teaches every day,” the petition says.
Although Hedlund believes the Change.org petition was a good start, he said he thinks the best way people can help Wang is by spreading as much awareness as possible before it is too late.
“People need to realize that the clock is ticking,” Hedlund said. “In order for there to be a chance of Min Wang’s immigration decision being overturned, the story needs to be as widespread as possible. Time is not on our side.”
On November 3, Wang learned that her case had been reopened. Barr said he does not know why Wang’s green card application was reopened, but thinks it is a good sign.
Attorney Elliott Lichtman, a former GDS parent and current GDS grandparent, is representing Wang as she continues to apply for a visa. Lichtman is a partner at Lichtman & Rosenblum, PLLC, an immigration law firm in D.C., and has decades of experience in immigration law. Barr said that many GDS parents who have friends within the government are working with Lichtman to support Wang.
On the same day that students learned of Wang’s situation, Fox 5 wrote a story about Wang. Many students shared this story on social media to raise awareness and some even tweeted it to Ivanka Trump, asking for help. Barr, however, does not think continuing to reach out to the media would be beneficial to Wang’s case.
“The whole purpose of this education at GDS is so that you can become activists,” Barr said. “But in this case, we actually think it would be a bad thing. At this point, we have been told by lawyers we are better off working quietly through the channels and reaching out to folks who actually have some influence in this decision.”
Barr said that he believes the petition and initial media coverage was good because it drew attention to the urgency of the case; however, he thinks more media attention would be counterproductive.
“More media attention is likely to get the hackles up of the people making these decisions than otherwise,” Barr said. “We are just taking the advice of counsel at this point to do what we can to be of support.”
In an email sent to the GDS community, Barr informed students and parents that while Wang’s case is pending, she has the legal right to return to work. However, Barr warned students and parents of the effects more media coverage could have.
“Please know, we are continuing to work this case and are not simply in waiting mode,” Barr wrote.
Wang said she is hopeful for the future and happy she can remain with her students until another decision is made.
“When this first happened, I said ‘oh, it is done.’ But now, I get people’s responses and many people are supporting me in government circles,” Wang said.
Since Wang’s work permit is valid now, she will continue to teach until her visa gets approved.
“The best thing we can do in this situation is to let her know personally that we just want to support her in whatever way we can,” Cowan said. “I think we as students have done a good job of that already but it’s about maintaining the momentum in case anything changes.”
By: Annalise Myre ’19