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Married U. physicists still stuck in China awaiting visas

University of Utah physicists who returned to their native China for a family emergency are becoming discouraged about their chances of returning to the United States.

Xiaomei Jiang and her husband, Jian Zhang, married Ph.D. students and researchers at the U., went to China last September after her parents were in an auto accident there. Her mother died at the scene and her father was in critical condition, dying about 10 days later.

Jiang worked in the research group headed by Zeev Valentine Vardeny, chairman of the university's physics department. Zhang was in the research team of Rui-Rui Du, physics professor. Jiang has written five research papers, one of which was published in the prestigious journal Science.

With the couple on the long journey to central China was their daughter, Ailin Zhang, who was 8 at the time. She was attending Salt Lake schools while her parents studied and researched at the U.

On Sept. 26, Jiang and Zhang applied for U.S. visas so they could come back to Salt Lake City. In the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, they ran into delays while their applications were investigated.

As months passed, the family stayed with Zhang's relatives in Chengdu, central China. The American Physical Society faxed a letter on their behalf to the State Department. In December, the journal Science highlighted the family's plight.

But the visas still have not arrived.

Jiang had planned to bury her parents' ashes either in Salt Lake City or Connecticut, places they enjoyed visiting. But last week she gave up on that dream, and she may be giving up on the dream of earning her Ph.D. in physics.

She is depressed and "thinks it's maybe not possible for her to get back," said fellow U. physics researcher Chen-Chun Wu. Jiang's sister, Yuhong Jiang, a postdoctoral fellow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, agreed. "Xiaomei told me that she felt that she might never be able to get back to the U.S. again," she said in an e-mail to the Deseret News.

Last week, Xiaomei Jiang decided to bury the parents in China, "near my hometown," her sister said. "The funeral was held last Saturday, after which she went back to Zhang's home.

"She told me that she might consider looking for a job." The problem is, many jobs in China are long-term appointments, and unless the couple graduate from a major university or return to China with a doctorate from the United States, she said, "it is very difficult to find any job opening." But to do that, they would need to return to Utah to finish work on their doctorates.

Meanwhile, their daughter, Ailin, has had difficulty with school because she went to classes in Salt Lake City, where she didn't learn written Chinese. "Xiaomei is home-schooling her," Yuhong Jiang said.

"I just hope that their visa application will eventually be approved."