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Chutima Sidasathian: application to study for PhD rejected by US

US Embassy Rejects Phuketwan Journalist's Bid to Study Rohingya

Tuesday, May 7, 2013
PHUKET: Officials at the US Embassy today rejected an application by award-winning Phuketwan journalist Chutima Sidasathian for a tourist visa to visit America.

Khun Chutima, 31, one of Phuket's most respected reporters and perhaps the most knowledgeable about Rohingya boatpeople in Thailand, said she was ''shocked'' to have her application rejected on a technicality.

''It's disappointing,'' she said today. ''I would like to know the real reason why my application was rejected.''

Khun Chutima had hoped to spend a month from July 1 at Harvard University's public library continuing her PhD studies by researching Rohingya ethnography.

Harvard University is close to where the Boston Marathon finish line bombers struck, killing two and injuring scores, on April 15.

Three days ago, Indonesian authorities foiled a plot to bomb the Burmese embassy in Jakarta, allegedly because of Burma's brutal treatment of its Rohingya Muslim minority.

Khun Chutima has been covering the fate of Rohingya boatpeople in Thailand since revealing the secret ''pushbacks'' that resulted in the deaths of several hundred would-be refugees in 2009.

She believes today's rejection of her application for a visa was because of security concerns.

''The man who interviewed me could not work out why Phuketwan wanted to sponsor my PhD. He called Phuketwan an 'online tourism magazine.'

''He flicked through my passport and said 'You have travelled a lot.'' (Khun Chutima has visited destinations in Asia, Europe and Australia without encountering visa problems.)

She explained how her reporting on the Rohingya boatpeople had led to her PhD academic studies.

''Why do you go to the US,'' the man said. ''Why don't you go to Myanmar (Burma.)''

Earlier this month, the US lifted a sweeping ban on visas for officials from Burma - some of them former junta generals - despite growing fears that ethnic violence there will end in the genocide of the unwanted and abused Rohingya.

Khun Chutima's application was rejected, according to a single sheet of paper she was given, because ''You have not been able to demonstrate sufficiently strong family, social or economic ties to a country outside the US that would compel you to leave the United States after a temporary stay.''

The official was twice invited by Khun Chutima to contact Phuketwan's editor-publisher to confirm that what she said was true. He declined to do so.

In 2010, Khun Chutima shared the Society of Publishers in Asia (SOPA) Award for Excellence in Investigative Reporting and a second Award for Excellence in Human Rights Reporting.

Of the Human Rights Reporting award about Khun Chutima's work in the South China Morning Post newspaper, the judges said: ''Excellent investigative work that exposed serious human rights abuses of oppressed people. Intrepid reporting of a hidden subject. This is a high-caliber series buttressed by solid on-the-ground reporting and great pictures. All militaries are challenging subjects for investigative reporters and Thailand's is no exception. The team clearly went to great lengths to get sources, break news, and provide the details that prodded the government into action.''

She had previously shared the prize for Scoop of the Year at the Hong Kong News Awards 2009 and later the general news prize at the Human Rights Press Awards in Hong Kong ''for exposing a secret Thai army policy of detaining Rohingya boatpeople from Myanmar [Burma], towing them to sea and abandoning them.''


Comments have been disabled for this article.


As an American citizen, I am somewhat ashamed about this...

I thought my country stands for Human Rights and Free Speech? A so called "online tourism magazine" is not supported in its attempt to lead academic research about human rights?

However, the alleged reason given by the USA authorities was a technicality that should not be too difficult to appeal in a second application ''You have not been able to demonstrate sufficiently strong family, social or economic ties to a country outside the US that would compel you to leave the United States after a temporary stay.''

Really? I think she would be very pleased to return back to Thailand after her research... in order to, you know, follow up on her sociological reporting about the ethnic cleansing against poor ethnic families?

Posted by j on May 7, 2013 19:37


Sorry to hear this and I hope K Chutima tries again and prevails. For the record, Harvard University does not maintain a "public library" and it is no where near the finish line of the Boston Marathon. And lets be fair: It is NOT accurate to say that her "application to study for PhD was rejected by the US" as your caption states. It is her application for a non-immigrant tourist visa that was rejected.

Posted by matt on May 7, 2013 19:49


Every single time I have arrived in Newark or JFK I have been harassed and held back because I via my work visit many countries and has visas from many places. The US is by far the most unfriendly country at arrival and here I also include arrivals to Pakistan,Iran,Syria and Algier, just to mention a few...first inside the US people are nice but my god immigration and passport people there , how unfriendly can people be !!

Posted by Sailor on May 7, 2013 20:15


It would appear that the US government has something it wants to hide by not allowing a talented investigative journalist to study for one month.

Is there any avenue of appeal available?

Posted by Phil on May 7, 2013 20:29

Editor Comment:

The single page says: Please be advised that today's decision cannot be appealed. However, you may reapply. . . . There is no guarantee that a new interview will result in a different outcome.


Lol , they could not even manage to turn the stamp the correct way when they stamped the date at the document, amazing... ;-)

Posted by Sailor on May 7, 2013 22:16


I would have to agree with Matt, the title is misleading and will not bring up smiles at the US Embassy.

Tourist visa is for tourism purposes. If she wanted to study, she should obtain a student visa.

It's no different in Thailand. Students need an ED visa.

If she applied for a tourist visa but then said she wants to study, obviously that gave the embassy reasonable doubt about the real purpose of her visit and consequently made them question if she really intends to return or not.

I don't see anything discriminatory or even newsworthy in this incident. She applied for the wrong type of visa and was thus rejected.

I can understand she's disappointed and I hope she succeeds next time but blaming the embassy publicly for her own mistake is unlikely to help in the next application attempt.

I would at least correct the misleading headline.

Just my 2 cents.

Posted by Stephen on May 7, 2013 22:47


Good. I for one am happy to see that other countries are making it as difficult as Thailand to acquire proper visas.

As a business owner that is subjected to a ridiculous amount of paperwork, fees, tea money and having to travel to other countries to even start the process - this visa rejection makes me smile.

All countries should treat Thai's as their citizens are treated here. Miss Chutima should have to leave Thailand and travel to another country to apply, and then be asked to pay additional 'fees' before even considering letting her visit the US.

Then in the middle of her research in the US, she should have to leave to Canada or Mexico and return again - just to update her visa status.

Also, if she doesn't put enough money in a US bank account she shouldn't even be considered...

Quit whining about your visa, as your cries fall on deaf ears here.

Posted by Tit for Tat on May 8, 2013 09:43


Thailand is not on the US list of Visa Waiver countries, so a visa is required. Based on the Embassy website, a researcher would need a non-immigrant B-1 visa.

As another poster mentioned, Harvard libraries don't allow just anybody in. PhD candidate from another institution are required to apply for library privileges by appearing in person and providing a valid university ID card AND a letter of introduction from a thesis advisor on University letterhead.

I'm not sure what doc's were presented to the Embassy and exactly what visa was applied for, but you always need to prove your case. If I was going to do research for several months, I would at the least provide the Embassy a copy of my Thesis advisor's letter to Harvard, correspondence from Harvard Library acknowledging my acceptance to do research, and perhaps even proof of habitation (i.e. short term apartment lease). All these would help the Embassy official make a more informed decision.

Posted by GiantFan on May 8, 2013 10:18


Chutima needs a type F1 visa and to obtain such she needs a sponsor under the Student and Exchange Visitor Program. The sponsor can be an individual, a high school or a college. There are many schools in Cambridge, very close to Harvard, but you have to note that their library is not open to the general public ??? the sponsor will have to arrange visits. My son is on a similar programme in California. See for more info.

Posted by Pete on May 8, 2013 11:17


That's hardly a technicality, but my sympathies to Ms. Chutima. I'm American, can I help? Just wondering if the interviewer was Thai or American, and if Thai, was her darker skin tone the real factor?

Posted by EB 48 on May 8, 2013 11:29

Editor Comment:

Americans, like Thais, come in all shades, shapes and sizes these days, EB48. To even suggest skin tone would be a factor among professional diplomats reflects poorly on the way you - and you alone - view the world.


I don't see how it is any of Phuket Wan's business to do this, and secondly Phuket Wan being a foreigner (with Mother Theresa aspirations) can maybe petition his government to put up these economic refugees, instead of hassling the Thai and other governments. Why do you never write about Buddhist Tibetans being hassled, tortured etc????

Posted by Ian on May 8, 2013 14:25

Editor Comment:

When the Tibetan Buddhists arrive on Phuket in large numbers in boats, we will be delighted to write about them, Ian. Until then, we will continue to report on the largest involuntary exodus by sea and the most disturbing systematic ethnic cleansing that the region has witnessed this century. Phuketwan is a non-discriminatory Thai operation. We have the best interests of Thailand at heart. if you wish to report something about Buddhist Tibetans being ''hassled, tortured etc'' or Mother Teresa, we'd be happy to consider it for publication.


A touristvisa is for tourist.
If you want to study or work you need a different sort of visa.

Posted by FS on May 8, 2013 14:38

Editor Comment:

Tourists don't all have to find a lounger on the beach. In most places, visitors are free to sit in libraries and read, FS, and even attend public lectures at universities. Four weeks is a tourist's visit.


The lenght of the visit has nothing to do with it. I could be a year in the US to see all the things there as a tourist. I could be there for 3 days and be working as an consultant.

Posted by FS on May 8, 2013 15:27

Editor Comment:

In this case, a tourist wants to visit libraries and listen to lectures. There is no work involved, and no formal study.


I enjoy reading the reporting by Khun Chutima very much and wish her no ill.

Upon reading many comments here it seems like she has just been given poor and misleading advice as to how to apply for her visa.

I mean, I've been to Boston countless times and enjoyed sitting around Harvard Square but didn't have a clue of the steps necessary to gain access to their library, not to mention it was not public.

By her own admission she wanted to do research there, which by any definition is beyond the scope of tourism activities.

She's also a journalist, and a damn good one too, but research and journalist can quickly be construed as intent to do media work as well.

Research is something that often takes months, if not years and that may also have triggered the suspicion she intends to stay longer than just 1 month.

Point being - her story has many holes and the Embassy does background checks to verify this.

I know the US Embassy is not exactly the Shining Star of Customer Services but in case they can be contacted in advance, I would simply explain to them what I wish to do and ask which visa is the correct one to apply for.

Drawing the discussion into a public forum will in my opinion only cause further complications for her application, especially since it has misleading statements and factual errors that have not been corrected despite being pointed out by those who know.

Add to that the fact that everyone reading the news should know the Embassy will not publicly comment on visa application issues, meaning they literally have no voice here.

Just recently Thai media tried to draw them into doing so by questioning the reasons for granting Thaksin a US visa, a bait they didn't take.

To think they'd do so for Khun Chutima is not realistic.

I don't know who's idea this article was but I think it's doing way more harm than good for K. Chutimas chances for a successful visa application in the future.

I fail to see the point of this article other than wishing to vent anger and frustration.

Posted by Stephen on May 8, 2013 16:20

Editor Comment:

Guesswork is a waste of time, Stephen, although you and Khun Chutima's embassy interrogator seem to share the desire to indulge in it.

In the case of the embassy, a couple of telephone calls would have clarified the situation quickly.

Khun Chutima's only mistake was to tell the truth, to honestly explain what she planned to do with her time in the US.

Our reason for publishing her account is because she believes security has intensified in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings - please do a Google search if you wish to see the connection to Harvard University - and the Rohingya-related attempted bombing of the Burmese Embassy in Jakarta.

She mentioned both ''Harvard University'' and ''Rohingya'' in the interview.

Had she told lies, her application for a tourist visa would probably have been approved swiftly. Had the interviewer reacted sensibly, alternatives would have been suggested.

She has no intention of staying in the US longer than one month. Her research began years ago and is continuing.

The US has no particular significance or appeal to her as a destination, beyond access to a quality English-language library. She will now be applying to another country with equally good libraries.

You seem to know more than you are telling us. Please explain to us what background checks the embassy performed in this case.

And please explain why you feel the actions of authorities should not be questioned, just because they usually decline to respond and ''have no voice''.

One of the reasons why we chose to publish is that rejected applicants for visas usually have no voice. I have to tell you, Stephen, the US government can shout quite loudly if it wishes.


Hey morrisen.they got this right huh?? He called Phuketwan an 'online tourism magazine.'missed out the part about the obnoxious wee ponce who acts as outspoken Ed!! You are so upset obviously that your self perceived greatness amounts to ZERO in the real world.. Sponsers Take NOTE!!

Posted by davidj on May 8, 2013 17:37

Editor Comment:

Thanks for your insight, davidj949.


With all due respect, you are the one who's implying she was rejected because of "Boston" and "Rohingya". That's quite a leap and you even use it in the misleading headline.

I was merely giving a few probable reasons for rejection. Neither one of us knows because the Embassy does not explain their decisions.

Considering the amount of applications they receive, this would be an insurmountable task.

My understanding is that the job of the person conducting the interview (he is not an interrogator nor is the applicant a defendant) is to verify if the applicant satisfies the criteria required by the class of visa he or she applies for.

Naturally they will try to poke holes in a story. This is something everyone who has travelled a lot knows to expect every now and then from immigration agents, especially if come from Thailand.

Thailand is a known source of drugs and illegal wildlife, not forgetting human trafficking. A well reported and documented fact which raises suspicions even about non-Thais who's passport is littered with Thai entry stamps.

Thai and Filipino citizens also have a reputation for working illegally on tourist visas, thus because of a few bad apples the whole nation suffers. Including Khun Chutima.

I'm not saying you cannot or should not question the actions of the authorities. On the contrary, PW is one of the few news outlets in Thailand that has the guts to do so and I have the highest of respect for you and K. Chutima because of that.

However it's about how and where you decide to do it. If you do it publicly like this, then it's crucial that you get the facts right.

Your headline is misleading and downright wrong. Confrontational wording like "interrogator" is not helpful. She did not apply to go to the US to research the Rohingya. She applied to enter the country as a tourist. The library location is also wrong.

I know you are usually very careful in getting all the facts right and quick to attack those who don't. Be it your own readers or other news outlets.

Considering that I'm confused as to why you don't apply the same standards to this article.

Even if I knew in detail what the Embassy checks or doesn't, obviously I would not be at liberty to say. Silly question.

Common sense can be used. If even a few online posters here can poke serious holes into her story, surely the Embassy together with Homeland Security, INS et al can do a lot better.

We can speculate back and forth all night but it amounts to nothing.

You feel she was rejected because she told the truth and used the words Boston and Rohingya.

I think she was rejected because she was given bad advice and consequently applied for the wrong visa.

I only offered my opinion because since you chose to publish the article here, you invited people's comments.

For what it's worth, I'm genuinely sorry for her not being approved and hope she will reapply after the disappointment has cooled down.

Posted by Stephen on May 8, 2013 19:32

Editor Comment:

Khun Chutima was honest in describing to her interrogator exactly what she planned. There is no reason for her application to be rejected - except for security concerns that were raised by the tenor of the questions asked, but never explained.

The reasons for her visit were fully explained, and the headline is perfectly accurate.

There is no reason why she would reapply. We understand how embassies and visa applications work.

Sometimes, wrong decisions are made. This was one of them.

ps: We don't anticipate any change in our relationship with the embassy nor in their relationship with Phuketwan.


Using words like interrogator when referring to the US embassy official is extremely harsh on your part Mr Munro.The United States has every right to stop this woman from entering their country, by you and her playing the race card this is very wrong as it was clearly stated in the letter why she was not issued a visa she was deemed to be liable to overstay it's that simple and hardly deems the need for a one sided article.No doubt her version of the interview differs in tone and attitude to that of the embassy staff member but they don't have a small island tourist magazine to vent their pent up anger in and give their version of what actually went on during her interview.

Posted by Scunner on May 8, 2013 21:47

Editor Comment:

Anger is not something I feel. Sorrow, Scunner, you have my deepest sorrow. It almost rhymes with Munro.


The reason given for refusal is no different from that handed out everyday at the British Embassy in Bangkok. With no family ties they need absolute 100% PROOF you'll leave at the end of the Visa. If there's ANY doubt at all the application is thrown out. It's as simple as that. Maybe she should consider buying property in Thailand, look for a full time job, then try again instead of whining about how unfairly she's been treated.

Posted by agogohome on May 12, 2013 08:47

Editor Comment:

What a typically myopic and bigotted comment, agogohome. The single mother in the queue ahead of Khun Chutima, going overseas for the first time, swanned straight through. We have no doubt that security was the real issue. I guess you just can't help yourself, but your views on most topics leave the unmistakable waft of self-righteous sanctimony, not serious knowledge. I've also dealt with the British embassy and the difference is that the British embassy telephoned to check the facts. The US embassy did not.


Golly morrisen...this rejection of your staffer has really got you going...keep it up more and more people are commenting on your vile retorts..sponsors are also!!How dare the authorities reject a staffer who works for you huh?? i'll bet your a huffin and a puffin in your oriface saying ''DONT THEY KNOW WHO I AM??''You are a nobody...get over it, go back to toilet cleaning duties..thats all youre fit for..

Posted by davidj on May 12, 2013 09:11

Editor Comment:

I am a nobody, davidj. These mindless blatherings are all about your own sad little ego. You have my sympathy.


Ed, it is about time you put you own "bigoted", use at least I know what it means, views aside and accepted that MANY others have their own opinions, which may or may not be the same as yours, to not allow these differences clearly makes you the BIGOT. Time to get another email, but my comments will remain the same.

Posted by Phuket_IOC on May 12, 2013 10:27

Editor Comment:

The acceptance of a variety of opinions on this site is conditional on those opinions being free from racism, bigotry and factual dishonesty. Readers who target individuals will also get short shrift. I see that you can now type BIGOT in capitals. Good work.


Seems likely that there were Thai politics involved because of her "exposures?"

Posted by David on May 19, 2013 07:19

Editor Comment:

That would be a flawed conclusion. A simple misjudgement on the part of one or two officials, surprised by honesty and confused about security, is most likely.


Editor Comment:

That would be a flawed conclusion. A simple misjudgement on the part of one or two officials, surprised by honesty and confused about security, is most likely.

Still in denial morrisen?? you are pathetic,and its nice to see you showing your 'unravelling'' from the cocoon of sanity you may have once had.
Your comments to more and more readers is leaving an evidence trail of such. Surely you have a friend? or collegue who will confirm this to you...then again, no, probably notand even if you had a friend your self importance would over ride any sound advice the friend gave...Its like watching a train wreck in slow motion...Hows the sponsorship going? I doubt many good names would want to appear on your slowly imploding site -of-shame nowadays huh.You really should be ashamed.

Posted by davidj on May 19, 2013 08:59

Editor Comment:

Sunday mornings take you a while to adjust eh, davidj? Wife beating you again?


@davidj...get a life or head over to Surat Thani for some treatment. You are in dire need of some assistance.

Posted by petr on May 19, 2013 11:56


ED...some may agree with davidj after you very low comment re: "Wife beating you again?" I do not think I could use any services from any sponsors, if they support such a low standard of journalism, I will be writing to them directly, as I know this will not be published, your ethics are deplorable.

Posted by Phuket_IOC on May 19, 2013 12:07

Editor Comment:

One reader has just suggested davidj seek help. You seem to agree with him that the editor is here to be insulted, without a comeback. Perhaps you and davidj should try for a ''two for the price of one'' discount? Please tell the doctor that you are unable to tell the difference between opinions and journalism, and hate being contradicted.


"David J" is a well known troll and harasser on Thai expat discussion forums ( though he lives in UK. ) His inability on PW to over-use his favored smiley icons has him at a disadvantage in getting any kind of coherent point across.

Posted by EB 48 on May 19, 2013 12:53


Ed, a typical and expected reply, I suggest you look at the definition of journalism, I think you fail the grade, then look at the definition of opinion, something you do not accept from your readers, unless of course it agrees with YOUR opinion. As for a doctor, another low level attack on those that provide content for this site, some who do actually know something (oh dear, I know I'm in for it now) about Phuket and are NOT scared to say. AS for the "editor" being insulted, what a joke, you insult people every day.. what a egotistical hypocrite.

Posted by Phuket_IOC on May 19, 2013 15:20

Editor Comment:

You mean ''an egotistical hypocrite.'' There are certainly readers capable of adding value via comments to the articles, and their submissions are appreciated. Everything they say - and everything you say - reflects on this site. Your comments are often valueless, often unsupportable by facts, often far from positive, or often just plain libelous. Your ''content'' is not something we want. I suggest you continue your research and extend it for a long, long period.


Pray tell Ed, just what do you want, oh yes, you want EVERYONE to agree with you. As for facts, feel free to prove me wrong, I would enjoy the debate, but please the operative word was PROVE. As for libellous, well only if I am wrong, I doubt anyone would like their day in court. You say my comments are often valueless, well Ed, if you do NOT publish the whole truth but only a very sanitised version, how much value is in your stories, about time you came clean, and admitted you as well as other media sources, on "Corruption" island, are shit scared to publish the truth. Your sponsors should be ashamed supporting your biased sanitised views. I will not be recommending them to any of my visitors.

Posted by Phuket_IOC on May 19, 2013 17:40

Editor Comment:

We understand and accept valid differences of opinion. Readers are perfectly able to discern for themselves who is the ego (in capital letters if you like) here. A day in any Thai court with your unpublished comments produced as evidence would probably not deliver your preferred outcome. Even if truth was a defence for libel - it's not - you would actually have to prove what you say is true. We have to put up with intimidation from all kinds of sources and yours will be ignored, as it deserves to be, just like all the rest. Continuing mention of our sponsors only demonstrates what a schoolyard bully you really aspire to be. Goodbye.


Morrisen..why haven't you got the guts to post my previous are a lowlife sneak . . . (moderated)

Posted by davidj on May 19, 2013 23:11

Editor Comment:

RISING LEVELS of intolerance in Phuketwan's Comments section have led to a new editorial policy. Comments that fail to comply with normal standards of civility will no longer be published. 'We've given the stirrers a fair go,' said the editor. 'It's a pity their bile knows no limits.' All readers remain invited to add personal insights, fresh ideas and new information.


As a non-resident American, and one who has had the pleasure of meeting the applicant, this refusal strikes me as petty. Why stop on a technicality a Thai woman who wants to investigate human rights? What would M. Luther King think of this??

Posted by Rod on May 30, 2013 19:40

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