Concerns are growing rife from the education sector over the reduction in US visa processing. Many US embassies and consulates have yet to resume regular visa processing since the pandemic broke out, causing stakeholders to worry that international students will not make it back to US universities for the fall semester, reported The PIE News.
A dataset sighted by the portal shows that out of 265 US embassies and consulates around the world 123 are either closed, temporarily closed or only offering emergency appointments. Stakeholders say the “profound” reduction in US visa processing capacity is a “roadblock for prospective international students”, which will put US universities in financial distress.
Earlier this month, 17 presidents and chancellors of universities throughout New York urged the US government to take a series of immediate actions that will allow greater numbers of international students to return to US universities for the fall 2021 semester. They called for the reopening of US embassies and consulates to process student visas and facilitate visa appointments.
Leaders of US universities said April and May are critical months for the processing of visas for the fall 2021 semester. “International students must make their country choices and begin applying for their visas in April to ensure they can arrive in time for the beginning of the fall semester. By taking action now, you can deliver a welcoming message to current and prospective international students, restore the US as a destination of choice, and support an important source of economic activity as we recover from the COVID-19 pandemic,” they said in a letter to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas.
In March, the American Council on Education and 40 higher education associations wrote to the US Departments of State and Homeland Security to prioritise processing student visa applications, as well as applications from international students for work authorisation.
“As travel restrictions continue for several countries and regions, we ask that a student exemption be considered. Currently, there is an exemption for students traveling from European Schengen area, the UK, and Ireland. This exemption for students should be extended to other countries included under the travel restrictions,” it said in a letter dated March 18.
A state department official was quoted saying that the pandemic has resulted in profound reductions in the department’s visa processing capacity. “Additionally, a range of presidential proclamations restricting travel in response to the pandemic have resulted in further constraints on visa issuances worldwide,” said the spokesperson.
— Study International (@Study_INTNL) April 19, 2021
International students not a priority for US embassies, consulates for now
According to the dataset seen by The PIE News, 60 out of 265 US consulates show student visa wait times of 14 days or less; 20 consulates show a wait time between 15 and 60 days; and 13 consulates have a waiting time of between 65 and 256 days. The remaining 172 consulates are either closed, temporarily closed, not showing wait time results, or are only offering emergency appointments.
The spokesperson said the department is continuously seeking ways to efficiently process visa applications around the world. “Throughout the pandemic, our US embassies and consulates have prioritised services to US citizens overseas, as well as urgent and mission-critical visa services (such as for those coming to assist with the US response to the pandemic).”
Advocates for the reopening of US embassies and consulates say international students have an enormous economic impact on the overall US economy. “The declining enrollment numbers for 2020 will, unfortunately, contribute to the challenges our economy confronts as we rebuild from the global pandemic,” said the ACE in its letter.