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Why thousands of international students will miss months, years of classes at US unis

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According to reports, among the top reasons for the decline in international students in the country include US student visa delays. Source: Frederick J. Brown/AFP

The no. 1 culprit stopping international students from getting back to their US unis today is bureaucracy. That and the delays caused by the pandemic on their US study visa processing times.

For Villanova University student Kofi Uwusu, this delay will stretch at least nine more months. That’s when the Ghanaian’s in-person study visa interview appointment is scheduled for in Accra. His classes are set to start next week.

“I think they should just open up the system,” said Owusu to Reuters, adding “they are operating on a rather limited schedule so I think they can broaden it and give students priority.”

He will miss another year of classes on campus due to the backlogs in the US study visa system, adding his previous study trip to the UK was less stressful.

Waiving the need for in-person interviews for F or M US study visa applicants could help, according to educational advocacy groups. “Many US consulates overseas are still not operating at full capacity,” said Rachel Banks, senior director at NAFSA: Association of International Educators. to Reuters. “Students and scholars still find it difficult to secure an appointment.”

A US State Department spokesperson declined to comment to Reuters on the viability of this.

Another encouraged students to apply early for visas. Interview appointments are prioritised and expedited on “a case-by-case basis.” “We are committed to supporting the US academic community and US economy through efficient visa processing, while safeguarding border security,” the spokesperson said.

US STUDY VISA

US study visa processing times are putting international students in a pickle. Source: Patrick T. Fallon/AFP

The US study visa debacle

From Ghana to Mynamar, thousands of international students are facing travelling delays or uncertainties as many US embassies and consulates have yet to resume regular US visa processing since the pandemic broke out. According to The PIE News, the US government does not expect to “quickly resume” full operating capacity for its visa processing services, delegates heard at NAFSA’s 2021 conference. NAFSA is a non-profit association dedicated to international education and exchange.

This has caused stakeholders to worry that international students will not make it back to US universities for the fall semester. A US Department of State official said that while consular services are offering as many appointments as they can, there are “large visa backlogs” and they do not expect to resume full operating capacity any time soon. 

International student enrollment in US colleges and universities have plunged in recent years. US universities saw an overall 72% decline in new international students in the US in 2020 compared to the previous year, said a report by immigration expert Boundless, citing data from the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) — part of the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). SEVP said there were 1.25 million active records in SEVIS for F-1 and M-1 students during calendar year 2020, a 17.86% decrease from calendar year 2019.

Last year, international students in the US came from 226 countries and represented every continent in the world, with the exception of Antarctica, said the report. Asia is the most popular continent of origin, bolstered by the number of students coming from China and India. All six continents saw a decline in the number of students coming to the country.