Visa Issues Impede 50% of International Students’ Access to Higher Ed in the US; How Does the US gov’t Respond to It?

Key Takeaways:


  • Visa challenges and complex immigration processes surfaced as the top concerns for Indian students pursuing higher education in the United States, according to 50% of those polled.
  • To date, the United States has given an unprecedented 82,000 visas to Indian students in 2022.
  • Approximately 358,000 F-1 student visas were issued by the US Department of State for the fiscal year 2021, which spanned from October 2020 to September 2021.

From high-quality teaching to multicultural experiences, there’s no doubt that the United States of America is one of the most preferred study destinations for international students across the globe.


Statistics revealed that in the 2020/21 academic year, 914,095 international students were studying in the United States.


While the number of international students in the US has yet to return to its pre-pandemic levels, it does signal that recovery is underway. With that, it is also vital to analyze the factors that contribute to the slow growth.


Visa concerns as a major roadblock to international education in the US


The Leap-Ipsos Study Abroad Outlook Report 2022 illustrated the international education landscape in India which is one of the major key markets for international students in America.


While the study found that vast job opportunities, top-tier universities, and a range of high-quality programs to gain world-class knowledge remain key drivers that motivate international students, the study also revealed that 50% of the surveyed students pointed out visa issues and complex immigration processes as the biggest concerns for those pursuing education in the US.

Visa Issues Impede 50% of International Students' Access to Higher Ed in the US; How Does the US gov’t Respond to It?

According to Reuters, one of the major causes contributing to delays in visa processing was the pandemic’s adverse impact on US embassies’ and consulates’ ability to conduct business. Many US consulates abroad are still not running at full capacity, according to Rachel Banks, senior director at NAFSA: Association of International Educators. As a result, getting an appointment is still challenging for students and scholars.


US: Positive to expediting visa processes


The US continues to be in favor of streamlining the issuing of visas despite reports of lengthy wait times for short-term business and tourist (B1/B2) visas to the country, with the earliest appointments only being available in mid-2024.


In fact, the US Department of State issued about 358,000 F-1 student visas during the fiscal year 2021, which spanned from October 2020 to September 2021, according to the most recent data. This was significantly more than in 2020, when embassy closures, border restrictions, and pandemic worries led to the issuance of just over 111,000 visas, roughly in line with the totals from FY2018 and FY2019.


The United States has so far granted an astounding 82,000 visas to Indian students in 2022, demonstrating that it remains one of the most popular study-abroad countries in the world today.


Moreover, the Press Office, Public Affairs Section of the US Consulate General recently announced that no-interview student visa renewals are now available, which means that Nigerians studying in the United States on F1 or academic J1 visas may be eligible to renew their student visas without an interview when they return to Nigeria over the winter break.


The US Department of State reported data suggesting a reduction in wait times in a briefing on November 17. Julie Stufft, Deputy Assistant Secretary, highlighted statistics showing that, internationally, the median wait time for student and temporary labor visas is seven days and, excluding those who can get an emergency appointment, the median wait time for tourist visas (B1/B2) is two months.


Furthermore, Stufft covered the methods for reducing wait times. These have included increasing the number of employees to pre-pandemic levels, exempting many students, temporary employees, and visa renewal applicants from having to appear in person—especially those who have previously visited the United States—and daily electronic transmission of visa applications from certain overseas posts with long appointment wait times to other posts with available capacity.




In my observation from consultations, school visits, pre-departure workshops, and even international conferences, the lengthy queues, and complexity of visa processes are among the top complaints from students, families, workers, and leaders in global education. Thus, the US government’s strategic action has shed some light on the future of the international education community as well as our students around the world.

MSM President

Suneetha has worked for 15 years in the international education sector and 25 years overall for her work for other industries. As president of MSM, she fortifies its business development outreach globally, particularly in the face of MSM’s foray into edtech-based recruitment via MSM Unify. She preserves the premium, value-adding services provided to each MSM partner institute, including dedicated teams on the ground, agent management, lead generation and inquiry management, application prescreening, and student and parent support through pioneering pre-departure briefing sessions.


She has an impeccable track record of successfully launching the representative offices in Asia and Africa of many North American and European higher education institutions. Her key strengths include hiring, training, and developing teams as evidenced by the successful results of the dedicated in-country college and university client teams.


Suneetha also has taken the lead in developing several initiatives at MSM, including building robust standard operating procedures, the Rise ‘n Shine team engagement platform, and the organization’s data analytics and audit segments.



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