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TAL concerns during F1 VISA interview for Info Security majors?


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Background: I do security research and have worked (and written articles in magazines) on several 'ethical hacking' topics. For the record, I am NOT a gray hat hacker and I strive to enhance security technology rather than take advantage of holes.

 

One of my seniors warned me not to mention anything about 'security research' during my Visa interview -- not even mention it on the resume. He did not tell me the reason.

 

Problem: Now, I read about TAL on one of GradCafe's topics: "For some fields of study the wait is longer because of a process called TAL (Technology Alert List). If your research is in a field the Americans worry might be used to create war-related technologies (this is a vague description, read more online) they will want more information and will perform a security check before they approve you. In that case, the wait might be several weeks long."

 

This worries me since it is easy to mistake us, security researchers, as 'threats' or hackers. So, I want to remove the 'security stuff' from my resume during the Visa interview. However, the problem is that if they Google me or ask me for a list of publications, it would clearly demonstrate that I'm a security researcher and some of my paper are titled 'Defeating ____ security' etc.

 

Questions: How worried should I be about being placed on TAL? Would you suggest I refrain from mentioning my security research as far as possible (I could talk about generic stuff like machine learning or something instead)?

 

I am worried that the VO might put me under TAL since it might be difficult for him/her to understand that I'm strictly a security researcher.

Edited by thegraydude
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I think you will get better advice from immigration lawyers and experts than us here at GradCafe.

 

Here is an anecdote that might help, but honestly, I want to repeat that this should not substitute real legal advice. One of my friends is from a Middle East country and his past papers have titles that include "Nuclear Physics". Of course, he was studying highly theoretical stuff about the forces in the nucleus of atoms, but visa/immigration officials see that title and think weapons first. This makes every US visa processing take much longer and he says that they get this information from his past papers even if he does not bring it up first. 

 

From his experience, the advice I would give to you is:

 

1. Don't lie to any officials. 

2. Instead of trying to avoid being placed on TAL, plan for it as the "worse case scenario" instead. So, now that you have your I-20, start your visa application right away so that the extra weeks of processing, if it happens, would not impede you from starting your program on time.

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Takeru is right: do NOT lie and do NOT try to hide anything. Doing so, in essence, confirms that you are up to no good, in the eyes of the VO. 

 

Honesty goes a long, long way during the visa process. 

 

See your PM.

Edited by jujubea
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This makes every US visa processing take much longer and he says that they get this information from his past papers even if he does not bring it up first. 

 

How did the VO find out about his past papers with a title of 'nuclear physics' if he did not bring it up?

 

From his experience, the advice I would give to you is:

 

1. Don't lie to any officials. 

 

Yes, I don't plan to. My major at the university is 'General, Computer Science'. So, I was thinking when they ask 'so what's your PhD about'? I would say something about a common Computer Science topic instead of bringing up security, that's all. I just hope they don't ask for my publications.

.

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You answered your own question: "if they Google me they will clearly see...."

 

Wow, so do they really Google you while asking you questions during that 1-5 minutes of interview? Does that happen a lot?

 

Alright. I guess it's best if I just reveal everything as it is and hope for the best.

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Wow, so do they really Google you while asking you questions during that 1-5 minutes of interview? Does that happen a lot?

 

Alright. I guess it's best if I just reveal everything as it is and hope for the best.

 

Whatever you do, do not lie. You are also not required to reveal information that no one asked you about. Answer all their questions truthfully but concisely. It may be wise to think ahead of time of a clear explanation for what you do, in case someone does look you up or ask what this "security research" is about. 

 

I think there is a high likelihood that you will need to go through TAL. It sucks, but really all it means is that processing of your visa (and all subsequent visas--keep that in mind!) will take longer. So I suggest you get started as soon as possible. 

 

[disclaimer: I am NOT an immigration expert.]

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I am not 100% sure why my friend's visa officials always know about his nuclear physics work. Maybe it was his CV, or they did a search on his publications, or they asked him to provide details about all former employers, or they asked him what his undergraduate research was about (his undergrad was in the US too). He is currently in Canada and whenever he applies for a visa to go to the US (whether for vacation or for conferences), they always know about his past work so he thinks that there is a note in his file ever since they first found out about this.

 

Also, I meant to put a point #3 in my advice above, but for some reason, after I typed #2, I thought I was done and submitted my post and then left the page! But it was basically what fuzzy said here:

 

You are also not required to reveal information that no one asked you about. Answer all their questions truthfully but concisely. It may be wise to think ahead of time of a clear explanation for what you do, in case someone does look you up or ask what this "security research" is about. 

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Depending on your field in security you should be concerned or not, mostly the part of Information Security that is the most important for them in TAL, is Cryptography(look here)

Also, most of the times they are not concerned about your past works unless they are black hat stuff which has caused serious damage. the following pdf is the source, most of the sites refer to concerning TAL which is for CMU.

http://www.cmu.edu/oie/forstu/pdf/tal-students.pdf

According to this pdf, TAL is considered for your country just because you are "capable of possessing nuclear tech" so Information Security wont be a concern in your country and mostly physics/energy related fields should be concerned. Also according to the same pdf they want to block technology "transfer", so it does not matter what you have done before, it is just the matter of what you WILL study which if you have a "research plan" letter from your POI, this would not be a concern either (even if you don't have that, you can tell them what are you going to work on based on your I-20 form)

I don't think you would face this kind of problem at all :)

Hope this helps.

 

P.S I want to get F-1 for Security field from another country listed in TAL. Wish me luck plz  :)

Edited by CoolZero
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According to this pdf, TAL is considered for your country just because you are "capable of possessing nuclear tech" so Information Security wont be a concern in your country and mostly physics/energy related fields should be concerned.

 

Also according to the same pdf they want to block technology "transfer", so it does not matter what you have done before, it is just the matter of what you WILL study which if you have a "research plan" letter from your POI, this would not be a concern either (even if you don't have that, you can tell them what are you going to work on based on your I-20 form)

 

I think it's not just about "capable of possessing nuclear tech". For example, in one case, a student from India was asked what she's going to study at the US, and she said 'Bio-technology'. Two random questions later, she found out she was placed on 'administrative processing' and had to go through TAL. She was requested a lot of information via email and it took months to process her Visa. I'm not sure if she got it in time for her semester. She said later it seemed that the VO was looking for the 'TAL keywords' and as soon as she said 'Bio-tech', her fate was sealed.

 

I do agree with you that it seems they are interested in what you're going to study in the USA, not what you have done in the past.

 

Good-luck for your F1! Hope you get it!

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