After the Coronavirus, international students are flocking to obtain fall visas


Rohi Jha started attending UC Berkeley this year, half the world from her home in New Delhi, and is plagued by social isolation and differences in time zone that forced her to attend online lessons in the middle of the night. She and her family contracted COVID-19 and last month escaped panic as infections increased in India.

Now it is grappling with new concerns facing the tens of thousands of international students enrolled in US colleges and universities. Can they return to campus at the beginning of the fall semester?

International students are at a critical stage in their undergraduate studies, as long visa application delays, consulate closures, and bureaucratic rules limiting access to the United States may hamper their long-awaited return to campus. The stakes are especially high in California, the number one destination for international students, where the University of Southern California and the University of California system of 10 campuses educate more than 54,000 of the more than one million international students enrolled in colleges and universities in the country.

The uncertainty has prompted national higher education leaders to plead with the Biden administration to take faster action and more flexible rules for its international students, not only their talents, but also the cost of the courses and billions of dollars for local economies.

International student enrollment actually decreased nationwide by 11% between 2016 and 2019, a decrease attributed to China’s hard-line stances on the Trump administration and stricter visa policies. The economic shutdown from the pandemic caused a 43% greater decline in new international students last year, according to the Institute for International Education, causing significant financial losses in universities and communities across the country.

University of California President Michael Drake and the 10 campus presidents recently wrote in a letter to Secretary of State Anthony J. Blinken: “The likelihood that these concerns will not be addressed immediately is profound, as the effects persist.”

The letter indicated that 16,000 international students at UCS are still outside the United States, and another 14,000 new students are expected to enroll by fall 2021. Overall, the number of international students decreased by 6% last year, compared to 2019, and UC leaders. It expressed the “urgent need for immediate action” in order to avoid further downturns by eliminating unfortunate incidents in visa issuance processes.

State Department officials, in a response on May 5, told Drake that international students were a “priority” and affirmed their support for the academic community and the national economy.

“We recognize the important contributions these students make to our campuses, the positive impact they make on American societies, and the great benefits of academic cooperation to increase cultural understanding, enhance research and knowledge, and support diplomacy. Of the country.”

American officials recently took important steps to mitigate the crisis. In late April, they lifted pandemic-related travel restrictions for students holding valid visas from China, Brazil, Iran and South Africa, among other countries, as long as their academic programs began on or after August 1. Then, they added exceptions for students in India, despite the current increase in COVID-19 in that country. They also allow in-person visa interview exemptions for students who renew their documents.

In a major development, the US Embassy and consulates in China reopened student visa services this month for the first time in more than a year, hiring hundreds of staff to process what they expect will be 2,000 applications per day.

China is by far the largest source of international students in the United States, providing more than a third of students to US colleges and universities and more than half of students at UCS and UCS. But the closure of activities due to the epidemic caused an 87% drop in visas granted to international students last year, and these documents, for students from China, fell to 943, from an average of 90,000 per year in previous years, according to the research. Written by Gaurav Khanna, Professor of Economics at the University of California, San Diego.

Despite these recent developments, problems remain. Up to 25% of the 8,400 students still outside the country, said Dulce Dorado, director of the Office of International Student Programs, at the University of California, San Diego, which educates the largest number of international students among the UCSD campuses. He said some of them had difficulty getting visa appointments, confusion about travel rules, exorbitant travel costs and access to flight reservations to California.

“There is a lot of anxiety and anxiety on the part of our students about whether they will be able to return in the fall,” said Dorado. But we are doing our best to defend them. It is imperative that universities attract and retain the best students and faculty from the United States and around the world. Their contributions are evident in almost every sector of our society and they bring us discoveries, innovation, artistic creativity and economic vitality. “

Ivor Emmanuel, director of the UC Berkeley International Office, described the relaxed travel rules as a “game changer” that will allow large numbers of students to return to campus in the fall. He said more than half of Berkeley’s 5,892 international students remain outside the United States.

But Emmanuel indicated that the Trump administration policy remains in effect, which bans Chinese graduates and researchers affiliated with universities linked to the People’s Liberation Army.

Rohi Jha, a student at the University of California, Berkeley, is keen to get a visa for the fall semester.

(Rohi Jha)

Students from Iran must travel to other countries to apply for visas because the United States does not have an embassy in the Persian country.

Anthony Bailey, vice president of strategic and global initiatives at the University of Southern California, said some Iranian students at the university are reporting slow progress in obtaining visas. But I was hoping that most international students would return in the fall.

Less than a third of USC’s 10,402 students are believed to be from outside the country, as most of them are graduate students who have never left.

“With all the difficulties of the past year, we can now see that the State Department is focusing on and prioritizing international students, while COVID cases are decreasing in most places,” he said.

However, the American Council of Education and other leading higher education societies have required US officials to make additional changes: prioritizing the visa process for students and scholars, waiving face-to-face visa interviews for new students, and allowing video sessions.

They also called for the removal of travel restrictions for professors and researchers, along with rules that prevent some students from returning to the United States for academic or career training programs that begin before August 1.

Meanwhile, many students remain nervous. Amy Wang, an undergraduate student at the University of California at Santa Barbara and a specialist in sociology, has been hit by bureaucratic chaos trying to renew her visa from her home in Shanghai. She plans to travel to Singapore to do so, but remains nervous about her chances of success.

In a year full of anxiety, this was the latest. Wang noted that returning to his parents’ home after an absence of eight years, where he also attended a prep school in the United States, was disturbing. He was sorely missed by his friends and his student leadership work. He had to avoid expressing his progressive and open political views. She was also emphasized about maintaining her grades in different time zones (class started at 3 am) and entering high school.

She stressed that she watched Michelle Obama repeatedly as she talked about never giving up to improve her mental health.

Jha said she was relieved to learn of the exception to the travel ban for Indian students. But you still need a student visa and cannot get it because the US consulates that process it remain closed in your country.

It also needs a COVID-19 vaccine, which it thinks UCS will require in the fall, but trying to get an injection date in the world’s second most populous country amid a devastating outbreak has been frustrating and so far unsuccessful.

“I don’t think I’ve been in such a stressful situation in my life,” said Jha, 20, in an interview from India. “There were a few moments of crying, but you just have to stay positive and overcome whatever life shows you.”

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