Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat- More than 10,000 Saudi students will travel to the US to attend university as part of a government-sponsored program following the adoption of new measures by the Ministry of Higher Education aimed at facilitating travel procedures for Saudis. In total, 21,000 Saudis are expected to take part in the program in the next four years.
Prospective students can submit their applications to the Ministry of Higher Education through a Ministry special office or its website for nine different specializations and will be able to benefit from assistance with their visa applications at the US embassy and its diplomatic missions throughout the country.
Fahd al Manur, a student who decided to enroll in the program told Asharq al Awsat, “I do not fear traveling to the US since Americans are a friendly people. Relations between our two countries have greatly improved recently and travel procedures are easier nowadays after being almost impossible following September 11th 2001.” Studying in the US would be a dream come true, he added, despite recent events. King Abdullah’s visit earlier this year strengthened bilateral relations and “reassured Saudis.”
Currently studying in the U.S., Mohammad al Mateeri described the initiative as an important step and described how in eight years of living in the US, “I have never been hassled, save for an increase in security checks to which a country is entitled to when protecting its citizens.”
His wife, Afaf, also a Saudi national, confirmed that Americans have been very friendly to the couple and treated them with respect. Once, however, she was detained for 24hours at a Washington D.C airport after a short visit to Saudi Arabia because of a mix up in names but was treated with respect and courtesy.
In the wake of the September 11 attacks on US cities, several Saudi students were detained around the U.S. Bandar al Qowaifal, who left home at 18 to attend university in America recalled his arrest. “After al Qaeda’s attacks, I was arrested for one whole month and extradited to Saudi Arabia . They didn’t have anything against me except some minor irregularities in my visa I hadn’t paid attention to. I am waiting for the right to time to go back to the US and resume my studies.” After applying to the exchange program and benefiting from relaxed visa procedures, Bandar is now back in the US studying at his own expense.
A PhD student, Saad al Sowaylim told Asharq al Awsat he was eagerly awaiting his return to the US to complete his degree, despite living through a difficult time while studying at John Hopkins University , three years ago. He felt it was important to correct the wrong impression some Americans had of Arab students in their country.
The Minister of Higher Education assist those already accepted in US universities by providing them with bank guaranteed and a recommendation to facilitate US embassy visa procedures.
Sources at the Ministry told Asharq al Awsat that the number of applicants who hope to attend US universities has reached 15,000 thousand, with the majority studying for B.A degrees.
Half of the prospective students will be sponsored by Saudi businesses to further their knowledge in a given field making use of bilateral treaties offering Saudis a number of opportunities in U.S. universities across the country.