The United States (US) has made some changes to its student visa policies. While some of it is an additional expense, other changes could encourage the most talented international students to not only study but work and live in the US for good. That said, the benefit outweighs the cost in some way.
In a recent ICEF Monitor article earlier this year, it was reported that there will likely be higher visa processing fees; a new mandate among consular officials represents a relaxation of visa applications evaluation; and the waiving of in-person interviews for many international student applicants through 2022.
In this article, we will explore the positive changes in the US student visa policy, the ones that may be deemed challenging, and the good news for foreign students who are aspiring to pursue 22 more new fields in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) for the Optional Practical Training program.
- The State Department proposed a rule of 53% adjustment in the schedule of fees for consular services.
- A proposed reformation in relaxing the evaluation of student visa applications may make fewer student application denials.
- Early last year, there were movements to allow dual intent for international students.
- There are 22 new STEM fields in the Optional Practical Training (OPT) program that may attract more STEM foreign students.
- On December 23, 2021, the State Department announced that interview waivers for certain nonimmigrant visa applicants have been expanded.
Higher visa application costs
In a proposed rule by the State Department on December 29, 2021, the schedule of fees for consular services, including nonimmigrant and special visa fees will adjust for F, M, and J visas. The application fee changes will increase to USD245, which is a 53% increase from the current USD160 that aspiring global learners must pay.
According to the Federal Register, this adjustment in fees is based on the Cost of Service Model that indicates “the increases are needed to fully recover the costs of providing the services.” Additionally, fee changes like this are “done to reduce the short-term volatility of demand because of the COVID-19 pandemic and stabilize price points for a longer period of time.”
Relaxation in visa evaluations
While the higher costs may not sound appealing to some international students, one of the rewarding policy changes is the relaxing of the student visa application evaluations. According to an article by ICEF Monitor, this may result in fewer students being denied a visa to pursue a program in an American higher education institution (HEI).
In this proposed reformation, the consular officials are directed to examine the applications of students based on present intent. This may be considered as a significant headway since previously, under the Trump administration, the students’ applications are “based on what might happen in the future when a long period of study in the US has taken place.”
The relaxation of visa evaluations, according to ICEF Monitor, will benefit student visa applicants who are mostly in the younger cohort and less likely to meet the previous residency requirements. These stringent requirements include showing owned properties, being married, and having vast work experience in their home country.
US Citizenship Act of 2021
While the consular officials are still mandated to examine students’ applications based on their likelihood to leave the country after studying in the US or to stay permanently, the ICEF article also reports that the consular officials are now directed to make an assessment based on the global learners’ intention “to return to reside with parents or guardians” instead of stricter residency requirements.
Early last year, however, there were movements to allow dual intent for international students. In an article by the PIE News, a new US immigration bill is permitting dual intent among F-1 visa applicants. The dual intent provision is an appealing reformation under the US Citizenship Act of 2021, especially among global learners bound to the US who aspire to study and work in the STEM fields.
Additional STEM fields in the OPT program
Besides the US Citizenship Act of 2021, another recent initiative by the Biden administration to attract and retain foreign students and skilled workers in the STEM fields has been announced. This is the addition of 22 new STEM fields in the Optional Practical Training (OPT) program.
According to an article by The Hindu, the additional STEM fields include Bioenergy, General Forestry, Forest Resources Production and Management, Human-Centered Technology Design, Cloud Computing, Anthrozoology, Climate Science, Earth Systems Science, Economics and Computer Science, Environmental Geosciences, Geobiology, Geography and Environmental Studies, Mathematical Economics, General Data Analytics, and Quantitative Methods.
According to the news report, this initiative aims to enroll 20 million international students by 2029.
Expanded Interview Waivers for NVAs
According to the website of the US Department of State posted on December 23, 2021, the interview waivers for certain nonimmigrant visa applicants have been expanded.
With this announcement, “the consular officers are temporarily authorized to waive in-person interviews for certain individual petition-based nonimmigrant work visas.” This includes the qualifying category derivatives such as Persons in Specialty Occupations (H-1B visas), Trainee or Special Education Visitors (H-3 visas), Intracompany Transferees (L visas), Individuals with Extraordinary Ability or Achievement (O visas), Athletes, Artists, and Entertainers (P visas), and Participants in International Cultural Exchange Programs (Q visas).
Expanded through December 31, 2022, the extension of consular officers’ ability to waive in-person interview also covers other nonimmigrant visa categories such as Temporary Agricultural and Non-agricultural Workers (H-2 visas), Students (F and M visas), and Student Exchange Visitors (Academic J visas).
Lastly, the US Department of State also authorized to waive in-person interviews for applicants who are up for visa renewal in the same visa classification, stating “within 48 months of the prior visa’s application has been extended indefinitely.”
It is important to note, however, that in-person interviews may still be required on a case-by-case basis, according to the State Department. To err on the side of caution, applicants are encouraged to regularly check embassy and consulate websites to be more properly informed on these developments.
All things considered, it is good to know that despite the persisting pandemic-induced uncertainties, the government of a top international education destination such as the US is ramping up efforts to support the aspirations of global learners, especially those who are in the STEM fields.
In an era of global health crisis and climate change issues, there is no better time to support STEM international students who are driven to address real-world challenges that require science-based solutions.