M.C. Escher's Tower of Babel ©2003 Cordon Art, Baarn, Holland

Shortly before Christmas 2002, Xuguang Jiang took a break from his doctoral program at Iowa University and returned to his Beijing home with two goals: to see the family he missed so much, and renew his student visa. As of late January, the 27-year-old engineering student was still waiting for US embassy officials to finish the extensive background checks now required for some foreigners studying in America. Last he heard, it would be another month--or longer--before he could return to his studies here. "I am sad about this, and I am angry," says Jiang, who had already been in the United States for 18 months. "I don't think it is reasonable for me to be involved in background checks."

Jaing's story mirrors those of thousands of postdoctoral fellows, faculty, and students at universities and research centers across the country as...

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