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“If you add other community development factors, they are innovators and creators, it could be quite a catastrophe in the long run if they don’t get in,” said Elizabeth Goss, a Boston-based immigration attorney who specializes in student recruitment Visa.
Nearly 1.1 million overseas students attended college in the U.S. during the 2019-2020 academic year, according to the Institute of International Education, an organization that tracks their enrollment. While education groups say it’s too early to predict what fall matriculation will look like, last fall’s 43 percent drop in new international student enrollment has made supporters for those students who are concerned about the coming semester.
A recent Moody’s analysis showed that the decline in international students last year and the bureaucratic burden of Covid will likely weigh on university finances for “several years”. Enrollment is likely to rebound in the fall, the rating agency said, however slowed down by travel restrictions, ongoing grievances from the Trump administration’s immigration policy and increased competition from other countries.
Biden has eased Trump-era travel bans and will allow students with visas to study online if campus closes due to Covid-19 outbreaks, but advocates of higher education are calling on him to relax student visa restrictions in order to facilitate the process of entry into the United States.
“Whether they are doing without interviews or perhaps setting up virtual interviews, we’ve heard from State that there are security concerns and that their system is set up for virtual interviews,” said Sarah Spreitzer, director of government relations for the American Council on Education.
NAFSA: Association of International Educators, the world’s largest not-for-profit international education organization, has also asked Secretary of State Antony Blinken to prioritize processing student and academic visas, extend the eligibility for the temporary exemption from personal visa interviews, and video conferencing for required visa To use interviews.
In order to obtain a student visa, prospective students must submit documents and attend a personal interview at an American consulate. The processing of the visa then takes a few months.
“The workload increases dramatically when the staff is absent, even when international students and some visas have priority,” said Jeanne Batalova, senior policy analyst at the Migration Policy Institute.
Joann Ng Hartmann, senior director at NAFSA, said the organization believes there could be a huge backlog in visa processing when the consulates reopen, which could mean international students may not arrive on time in the fall.
And Covid-19 disruptions at banks and consulates in badly affected countries such as India could continue to pose significant obstacles for prospective students.
Typically, about 40,000 Indian students come to the United States as new enrollers each year, and they are the students who need a visa from a consulate, said Allan Goodman, president of the IIE.
“There is absolutely no evidence at all from online academic trade shows and virtual presentations that there is less enthusiasm for attending American colleges and universities,” said Goodman. “The problem is, can people come here and how much of it depends on containing the virus, opening banks, opening consulates, vaccinating.”
In addition to the logistics of making an appointment, getting to a consulate, and getting in line, Batalova said a sick family member of a student can uncover well-thought-out plans. And for those still keen to travel, the visa backlog will likely include members of last year’s cohort who chose to study from home or study for a year in addition to the newcomers for the fall.
“There is a possibility that the number of people seeking first-time visas to enter the US could double, which is a logistical problem,” said Goss, the Boston-based immigration attorney.
There are also people who want to renew visas because they decided to go home to check on their loved ones during the pandemic. But even those who survived Covid-19 in the US are in a bind over how to extend their visas if they want to visit their family.
“Many students wanted to go back [to India] to get their F-1 visa extensions, ”said Priyank Lathwal, a PhD student from India studying at Carnegie Mellon University where 18 Percent of the students come from abroad. “You can’t do this because the system is delaying processing visas and embassies in India are closed.”
College students and academics from China, Iran, Brazil, South Africa, the European Union Schengen Area, the United Kingdom and Ireland have been added to the State Department’s list of national exemptions from Covid-19 travel restrictions that allow them to come to the USA despite travel restrictions.
Students in programs starting on or after August 1 can enter the country – if they can get a visa on time.
Pratiyush Singh of the University of California at Berkeley, where 13 percent of its students are overseas, said he knows people from his high school in India who are unsure about getting their visas in time for the fall because consulates are closing are.
“It’s kind of confusing,” he said. “They don’t know whether to postpone their matriculation until spring if they don’t get the visa.”