When Justin Thomas (COL ’12) arrived on campus and moved into his Living-Learning Community residence in McCarthy Hall, he was excited to meet his new roommate, Rafi Khetab (SFS ’12). Three weeks later, Khetab has yet to arrive.

Khetab, a resident of Afghanistan, has been denied three times for a student visa to study at Georgetown, and, as a result, will have to miss the fall academic semester.

According to the Web site of the U.S. Department of State, under the regulations of the Immigration and Nationality Act, if a student visa applicant fails to meet certain criteria, he is refused a student visa. The most common reason for a refusal is due to the government’s concern that once the prospective student arrives in the United States, he will not return to his homeland.

Khetab said this is exactly what the U.S. Embassy informed him.

“Their response and reason of the refusal was that they said that they are concerned that I will remain in the U.S. after the completion of study and I will not return to Afghanistan,” he said.

adding, though, that this has never been part of his plan.

“I do not have that intention; I want to come home and serve my people and serve my family. I have a huge family of 15 people that I am responsible for here in Kabul,” he said.

The U.S. State Department declined to comment on Khetab’s situation.

“We are very disappointed that Rafi will not be able to join the Georgetown community this fall,” said Melanie Buser, an international student adviser in the Office of International Programs. “He is a very promising and impressive student. It is my sincere hope that he explores the option of deferring his admission and is successful with another visa application in the future.”

According to Buser, this is not the first time an international student has been held up by a visa application.

“In cases like these, [Georgetown] usually contacts the embassy directly to provide any additional information that may be required,” she said. “Often, we write letters of support for the student to use when applying for the student visa.”

Born in Kabul, Afghanistan, Khetab has lived through several wars.

Beginning in 1995, when the Taliban first came into power, Khetab started to learn English at a private school and continued to learn English for the next four years.

“It has been a long-time aspiration since childhood to study in the [United States], which was why I studied English,” he said.

Khetab soon took his English education a step further. He began to secretly teach girls English in a private basement, which, if discovered by the Taliban, he said would have caused both him and the girls to be imprisoned and tortured.

“Teaching anything to girls was prohibited by the Taliban,” Khetab said.

Starting in the fourth grade, Khetab had to start working to support his family of 15. After completing high school in Kabul last year, Khetab traveled to Chicago for six months in order to visit and apply to colleges in the United States.

“I applied to Brandeis, I applied to Georgetown and a couple of schools in Chicago, and I got accepted to Georgetown and [was] granted a full scholarship,” he said.

After receiving his acceptance to Georgetown, Khetab returned home and started to apply for his student visa. Since the American Embassy in Kabul was unable to issue visas at the time, Khetab had to travel to Islamabad, Pakistan to apply for the visa.

After getting denied for a student visa the first time, Khetab contacted Georgetown to enlist them to write a letter of support in addition to other letters of support from contacts in the United States. The letters of support did not make a difference, though, as Khetab was once again rejected.

“They were telling me that they were not convinced that I would return back home after I finish my studies in the [United States],” he said.

During his third attempt, Khetab had Georgetown send another letter of support, as well as a diplomatic letter from the Embassy of Afghanistan in Washington, D.C., but yet again, the result was the same.

When coming back from his third trip to Islamabad, Khetab, unable to catch a United Nations flight to Kabul, decided to travel by car through an area he said has seen much violence in past weeks. It was a risky journey between the border, Khetab said, as there were several spots where the Pakistani Taliban were patrolling the roads and stopping cars in order search them.

For the last seven years, Khetab said, he has worked with the U.S. government in Afghanistan as a translator. After the fall of the Taliban in Kabul in 2001, he started working as a translator for CBS News. He then proceeded to work as a translator for the Special Forces, the Army, the United States Agency for International Development, the U.S. Marshals Service, the Department of Justice Program in Afghanistan, the U.S. Embassy and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Khetab said he is currently living at home and has spent a total of $5,000 on his visa application, travel costs included. He intends to continue dialogue with Georgetown to defer his admission and enroll in the spring semester, at which point he hopes to have his visa difficulties resolved.

However, despite the challenges of everyday life in Kabul, Khetab said he still continues to look toward an American education as an opportunity for him to one day make a difference in his homeland.

“It is very difficult. Every day, there [are] explosions and suicide bombings in and around the city. People are struggling very hard,” he said. “I am not trying to escape the hardships of life. I am hoping to enhance my skills and hope to resolve the difficult time.”

For more on this issue, visit The Hoya’s blog Leavey 421 – Inside the Newsroom.

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