Vietnamese student, rejected twice, gets last-minute US visa to attend Intel science fair

He had earlier won a national science contest with his affordable robotic arm for the disabled

Pham Huy and his robotic arm

A Vietnamese eleventh-grader has got a last-minute visa to travel to the U.S. for a science fair after having his application rejected twice.

Pham Huy had earlier won a national science contest with his robotic arm aimed at providing the disabled in Vietnam with a more affordable alternative to prosthetics.

According to Huy’s father, the U.S. Embassy in Hanoi had worked on their day off on Saturday just to process the boy’s visa application in time for his flight booked for the same evening.

Huy was among the Vietnamese students selected by the Ministry of Education and Training to represent Vietnam at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair 2017 (Intel ISEF 2017), organized by Intel Corporation.

The fair is slated to take place in California from May 15 to 19.

Huy’s invention to be exhibited at the fair is a robotic arm that could perform a range of movements similar to a human arm, controlled by the wielder’s feet through a sensor installed in their shoes.

The sophisticated product only costs VND3 million (US$134) to build, making it a cheaper alternative to high-end prosthetics.

Pham Huy showcases his robotic arm. Clip: Tuoi Tre

However, Huy was faced with a challenge getting his visa to enter the U.S., having been rejected twice.

“The interviews proceeded normally,” Huy said. “The interviewer asked for my basic personal particulars such as my parents’ occupation and my hometown. I answered the questions clearly. I have no idea why my visa application was rejected.”

“Huy’s mother runs a clothing stall at a local market, while his father fixes motorbikes for a living,” said Nguyen Tien Dung, headmaster of Quang Tri High School in Quang Tri Province, where Huy is a junior.

After an article about Huy’s misfortune was published in Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper on Thursday, the boy received a phone call from the U.S. Embassy in Hanoi the following day, offering him a third interview to reconsider his visa application.

Accompanied by his father, Huy caught a bus to Hanoi that same evening and arrived at the embassy on Saturday morning for his interview.

According to Huy’s father Pham Xuan Dinh, Huy’s visa was issued just 30 minutes after they arrived at the embassy at 10:00 am.

“[Embassy officials] told us that they would try to issue the visa in the morning so that Huy could catch the evening flight,” Dinh said. “I was moved knowing that they had worked on a day off just to process Huy’s case.”

Pham Huy (L) and his father Pham Xuan Dinh exit the U.S. Embassy in Hanoi with a visa, May 13, 2017. Photo: Tuoi Tre

Huy boarded the flight to the U.S. at 10:00 pm on Saturday, with travel costs funded by the Ministry of Education and Training.

However, as Huy had missed the earlier flight with his coach and fellow Vietnamese participants, the boy would be traveling by himself to Los Angeles, where he will be picked up at the airport by an official from the Vietnamese delegation.

“Huy thought all the chances were gone,” Dinh said. “But thanks to Tuoi Tre, and thanks to all those that had raised their voice in our support, [he acquired the visa after all]. Huy said the only way he could pay back all the support was to try his best at the science fair.”

Intel ISEF is the world’s largest international pre-college science competition, according to its website.

Each year, about 1,800 high school students from more than 75 countries, regions, and territories showcase their independent research and compete for on-average $4 million in prizes at the fair, the website says.

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