Universities and colleges across the US are experiencing another uncertain admissions cycle this Fall with prospective international students facing hurdles due to COVID-19 travel restrictions.
It has been more than a year since COVID-19 hit the world and yet many US embassies and consulates have not resumed visa processing.
US embassies and consulates in China, the largest source of international students in the US, are only conducting emergency visa appointments. International educators are of the view that this is indeed an 'imminent crisis' that will lead to a significant decline as many Chinese students have not been able to have their visa appointments scheduled.
Travel bans due to the global pandemic are still in place in the key sending countries such as China and Brazil. This means that until the situation starts getting better, students from these countries have to travel to a third country, spend at least 14 days there and then travel to the US.
The American Council of Education and around 40 other higher education organisations have come together to appeal to the U.S. Departments of State and Homeland Security to process student visa and work authorization applications on priority.
The associations wrote in a letter dated March 18 that in case consulates fail to reopen this Spring for the timely processing of student visa applications, the US should allow consular officers to remove the requirement of in-person interviews. If a waiver is also not possible, the State should at least try and conduct online visa interviews.
The associations also urged the department to issue new guidance letting international students enrol in online courses at higher education institutions in the US. The current guidelines do not allow new international students to travel to the US if their courses are totally online.
A senior director at NAFSA Joann Ng Hartman said that the US should make arrangements to welcome international students again and revive the sector.
A recent report by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) pointed out that the number of new international students in the US dropped by 72% in 2020 from 2019. Overall, the number of international students in the US fell by 17.9%.
A spokesperson for ICE said that the US embassies and consulates are looking for ways to resume routine visa services on the basis of locations, following public health data as well as local guidelines. However, all services worldwide will be resumed only when it is entirely safe to do so.