Many US consulates worldwide are not processing visas, raising severe concerns among stakeholders that international students will not enrol for the fall 2021 semester.
According to stakeholders, the “significant” reduction in US visa processing capacity is proving to be a “barrier for prospective international students.” They warned that unless the situation improves, institutions will face serious financial difficulties.
“Also, several presidential proclamations restricting travel in response to the pandemic have resulted in additional restrictions on visa issuances globally.”
A dataset compiled by a group of recruiters shows visa waiting times as displayed on US consulates worldwide.
It contains a list of 265 US consulates. At the moment, 60 consulates have a student visa wait time of 14 days or less.
There are another 20 consulates with wait times ranging from 15 to 60 days and 13 consulates with wait times ranging from 65 to 256.
The remaining 172 consulates are either closed, temporarily closed, do not display wait time information, or only offer emergency appointments.
“As the global situation evolves, the department is constantly seeking ways to efficiently process visa applications around the world, consistent with both health authorities’ guidance and the current US travel restrictions,” a state department official said.
“Throughout the pandemic, our US embassies and consulates prioritised services to US citizens abroad, as well as urgent and mission-critical visa services (such as those coming to help with the US response to the pandemic).”
Other posts that can provide additional services include prioritising immigrant visas for US citizens’ immediate family members, inter-country adoptions, and fiancé(e)s, as well as certain special immigrant visas, they added.
According to the official, nonimmigrant visas are prioritised for “urgent or mission-critical travellers and foreign diplomats,” followed by students, exchange visitors, and temporary employment visas.
According to crucial US stakeholders, the potential harm caused by visa processing issues is significant.
“We need the US government to address visa processes for international students immediately so that as many students as possible can arrive for Fall 2021,” said Brian Whalen, executive director of the American International Recruitment Council.
“International students make significant contributions to our economy and the diversity of our institutions and communities.”
Whalen explained that AIRC recently surveyed their certified educational agencies to gather “on-the-ground information” about visa processing at US consulates worldwide.
“According to this data, there are significant delays in visa appointments in many parts of the world. It also revealed that some countries have US Consulates with appointment wait times of only a few days or weeks,” he said.
Terry Brown, vice president for academic innovation and transformation at the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, expressed concern about the limited processing capacity of US consulates around the world in an AASCU newsletter.
“AASCU has vigorously advocated for federal policies that promote rather than hinder the internationalisation of our campuses… We joined the American Council on Education in urging the secretaries of state and homeland security to take action to allow our international students to return to our campuses and institutions,” he added.
Students visiting consulates
According to AIRC’s Whalen, students are not discouraged when they cannot obtain visa services in their home country.
“Some students even travel to a third country to apply for a non-immigrant study visa. This is a financial burden for these students, but it demonstrates their strong commitment to studying in the United States. He told.
According to a State Department official, visa applicants “may generally apply at any US embassy or consulate where they are physically present.”
“We advise applicants to check with the relevant embassies or consulates to determine whether those posts are available,” they added.
Impact on US institutions
Whalen warned that the issues around visa processing would have an impact on institutions as well as students.
He believes that universities that enrol many international students and rely on tuition payments as their primary source of revenue are the most vulnerable.
“The institutions most at risk are those with less financial flexibility and a higher proportion of international students enrolled.”’
“A drop in the number of enrolled international students affects not only tuition income, but also institutional positions in academic departments and staff positions in areas such as international student services, admissions, and enrolment management,” he added.