Overseas students enrolled at US universities are struggling to get visas due to the US embassies and consulates abroad operating with minimal staff as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Following the situation, educational advocacy groups have urged the United States to waive in-person visa interviews and conduct them online.
“Many US consulates overseas are still not operating at full capacity. Students and scholars still find it difficult to secure an appointment,” Senior Director at NAFSA, the Association of International Educators, Rachel Banks told Reuters.
According to a 2020 research by NAFSA, one of the causes of the drop in international student enrolment between 2017 and 2019 was the US visa process. At the same time, social and political environment as well global competition in higher education are other main reasons.
Kofi Owusu, a master’s student at Villanova University in Pennsylvania, also told Reuters that his classes are expected to start Monday, yet his interview appointment for a US student visa is nine months away.
“I think they should just open up the system. They are operating on a rather limited schedule so I think they can broaden it and give students priority,” he said.
Owusu stressed that it is easier to study in other Western countries, claiming that during his studies in the United Kingdom, he did not experience “the stress of seeking for an interview.”
A US State Department spokesperson said that students should begin the visa application process earlier, adding that the US will support country’s academic community and economy by providing effective visa process.
Institute of International Education (IIE) pointed out that international enrollments in the United States during autumn 2020 decreased by 43 percent compared to the prior year. It added that such a decrease took place due to months of closures in the world amid the pandemic crisis. Whereas, the number of new students who managed to access campus dropped 72 percent.
However, the US managed to welcome more than one million international students for the fifth year in a row, since the 2015/16 academic year. According to statistics, international students contribute around $40 billion to the US economy every year. NAFSA has revealed that the US lost $1.8 billion during 2019/20 from a year earlier due to the Coronavirus outbreak.
Because of the current increase in cases involving the Delta variant, many international students enrolled at US colleges and universities asked their universities for deferrals, including students of Michigan State University, Pennsylvania State University, Lehigh University in Pennsylvania and more.