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Classes Starting, But International Students Failing to Get US Visas


Students gather on the Yale University campus under a sign that reads Welcome to Yale Class of 2025 in New Haven, Connecticut, on Sunday, August 22, 2021. (AP Photo/Ted Shaffrey)
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Kofi Owusu's classes at Villanova University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania are about to start this Monday. But his in-person meeting at the United States embassy in Accra, Ghana for a student visa is still nine months away.

It is the second time that Owusu will not make it to the U.S. in time for school.

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

A drop in international students

The U.S. requires an in-person interview for international students to get a visa. Educational support groups say students find it difficult to get an appointment since the embassies are operating with fewer workers during the health crisis.

This has left some foreign students unable to get to the U.S. for the start of the school year. And the educational groups are now calling for the U.S. to drop in-person interviews or conduct them online.

FILE - In this file photo from June 7, 2019, a man walks by Hamerschlag Hall on the Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. Colleges in the U.S. saw a drop among international students in the fall of 2020. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar, File)
FILE - In this file photo from June 7, 2019, a man walks by Hamerschlag Hall on the Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. Colleges in the U.S. saw a drop among international students in the fall of 2020. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar, File)

A U.S. State Department spokesperson said students should start the visa process early. He added that the department considers appointments for students first and speeds up the process as needed.

Last year, the U.S. permitted embassy officers to drop required in-person interviews to help visa processing slowed by the pandemic. Students renewing their visas within a year before it ends are not required to meet in person through December 2021.

The Institute of International Education, or IIE, said new international student enrollment in the United States dropped 43 percent in the autumn of 2020 from the year before. The drop came after months of pandemic restrictions around the world. The organization, however, found that the real number of new students who made it to the U.S. in person fell 72 percent.

IIE numbers show the United States has had over one million international students each year since the 2015-2016 school year.

The wait and the difficulty threaten both America’s standing as a place for international students and the money they bring into the country. The amount is estimated to be $40 billion each year to the universities and local communities.

Losing talent

NAFSA is a nonprofit group of international educators. Its research found that, even before COVID, the U.S. visa process was one of the top three reasons for falling international student numbers between 2017-2019. The U.S. social and political environment and competition from other countries’ universities were the other two.

Ravi Shankar is the director of the International Services Office at the University of Rochester in New York. He named Canada, Britain, and China as the top U.S. competitors for international students. Shankar said, “We live in danger of losing talent.”

The University of Rochester pictured. The top three reasons for falling international student numbers between 2017-2019 in the U.S. include the social and political environment, the difficulties getting a student visa, and competition from other countries’ universities. (Official website)
The University of Rochester pictured. The top three reasons for falling international student numbers between 2017-2019 in the U.S. include the social and political environment, the difficulties getting a student visa, and competition from other countries’ universities. (Official website)

Other Western countries make it easier for international students to study there. Owusu said, “I have been to school in the UK.” He added, “I didn’t go through the stress of seeking for an interview.”

Sarah Spreitzer is the director of government relations at the American Council on Education. She said she thinks the U.S. government is trying to be "a more welcoming United States."

This year, American universities received 13 percent more applications from international students than from the year before. The numbers came in from Common App which students use to apply to colleges yearly.

Suwade Pe Than is a student at the Savannah College of Art and Design in Georgia. She considers herself lucky to have secured an appointment in June at the U.S. embassy in Yangon, Myanmar.

She waited more than three hours for her 10-minute meeting. Pe Than believes the meeting could have been done online instead of in person.

She said, “it's just that one interview that's keeping everyone from going to the States."

I’m Gregory Stachel.

Doyinsola Oladipo reported this story for Reuters. Gregory Stachel adapted it for VOA Learning English. Susan Shand was the editor.

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Words in This Story

rather adv. to some degree or extent

priority n. something that is more important than other things and that needs to be done or dealt with first

interview n. a meeting at which people talk to each other in order to ask questions and get information

enroll v. to join something as a member or participant

talent n. a person or group of people with a special ability to do something well

stress n. a state of mental tension and worry caused by problems in your life or work

applyv. to ask formally for something (such as a job, admission to a school, or a loan) usually in writing

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