US: “frustration” as travel bans and visa issues halt student plans
US-bound international students are reporting problems arising from the lack of visa appointments at embassies in certain regions, despite the US saying it would prioritise student and exchange visitor visa applicants.
These frustrations are being voiced during International Education Week, which the US has used to position itself as “engaged” with the aims of enabling international education and student mobility.
First year student, Asmod Khakurel, has been studying remotely with his institution in Ohio from Nepal since the start of term, which means waking up 2:40 am to attend class as a result of the almost 11 hour time difference.
He wants to be able to get a visa from the US Embassy in Kathmandu to join his course in person as soon as possible, but appointments are not readily available.
“I don’t know if I should wait for it’s resuming or plan something different by myself”
“I understand because of Covid they are concerned about health and safety, but they do not provide any clear information about it,” he told The PIE News.
“I’m grateful to my college, they have made me believe they will support us as much as they can, even in remote classes.”
Other friends have gone to study in Hong Kong, Germany and UAE, Khakurel explained, but visa appointments at the US embassy in Nepal remain unavailable.
“Other embassies are opening, but the US embassy is very unclear, and you can see why it is so frustrating.”
While Khakurel is unable to make a visa appointment, classmates from other countries have been offered emergency visa appointments.
For others, there is also a matter of scholarship eligibility, Khakurel said. “[If some students] will not be able to go to the US next spring their scholarships will be cut off, and they can no longer have the scholarships.”
According to a letter seen by The PIE News, the University of Texas at San Antonio has informed its Fall 2020 Distinguished Presidential Scholarship awardees the university will not defer the scholarship beyond spring 2021.
International Education has been impacted by the COVID-19 global health pandemic, but @ECAatState remains committed to promoting programs that prepare Americans for a global environment and attract future leaders from abroad to study, learn, and exchange experiences. #IEW2020 pic.twitter.com/aJJrOP5MzO
— Marie Royce (@ECA_AS) November 18, 2020
The UTSA Scholarship Office noted that “students must begin taking courses this spring 2021 term and must be enrolled full time (in-person or online) in order for the Distinguished Presidential Scholarship to disburse”.
Therefore the institution will not defer DPS again to the 2021-2022 academic year, and students will not be permitted to re-apply to 2021-22 UTSA admission in hopes to receive DPS again. However, awardees can choose to take all classes online from their home countries if they are unable to travel to Texas.
Ranjit Adhikari, a UTSA DPS recipient from Nepal, said “getting such a response from my university is really depressing”.
“I was shattered completely. On one hand, the embassy is not opening up for visa and this is already a frustrating situation because I don’t know if I should wait for it’s resuming or plan something different by myself,” Adhikari said.
“In the meantime, I am unwilling to study online because I am not sure if I can get the US visa because many people do not get visa even in multiple attempts. So, if I study online and if I do not get visa in future, all the time, money and energy spent will go waste,” he told The PIE.
“I understand that my university has its own policy and I feel it is sticking with those rules. But the embassy seems very indifferent with the situation we are going through and is providing no information making it difficult for us what to do next.”
The State Department has previously explained that during its phased resumption of routine visa services student visa are a “high priority”, and it “will make every effort to assist student visa applicants in a timely fashion, while keeping our staff and customers safe”.
However, according to the Department emergency appointments – usually meaning urgent medical or humanitarian need to travel – are the only available services in some of US’s largest source countries for international students.
Joann Ng Hartmann, senior director of IEM-ISS Services & Volunteer Engagement at NAFSA, said that the issues around visas “continues to be a concern and challenge for schools and students”.
“We are aware of students having difficulties securing visa appointments, as not all US Embassies and Consulates have resumed routine visa services due to the impact of Covid-19, but are also hearing anecdotally of students and scholars successfully receiving visas for travel,” Hartmann noted.
“The State Department’s latest guidance does prioritise student and exchange visitor visa applicants, along with travelers with urgent travel needs, which is helpful.
“The bigger concern is how logistically they can get here, with travel bans still in effect and available international travel options limited. We are hopeful the next administration will help to address this.”
Visa appointments at embassies and consulates in the two top sending countries to the US – China and India – have options for emergency appointments only or are temporarily closed.
Visa applicants in Brazil, Nigeria, Nepal, the UK and Turkey are also facing problems, while centres in South Korea, Vietnam, Taiwan, Japan and Mexico have appointment slots available – some centres such as Hanoi, Osaka and Mexico City having waiting times of one calendar day.
As director of the Office of Global Educational Programs at the US Department of State, Anthony Koliha, highlighted earlier this week, the current US administration has made historically high investments in its Education USA network.
The US Embassy in India noted this week that it will open a second EducationUSA Center in Hyderabad hosted by Y-Axis Foundation in 2021 – adding to its seven other centres throughout India. Students seeking additional information also have access to an EducationUSA India app.
“The State Department and the US Embassy will always support Korean students who seek academic success in the US”
Embassies across the globe put out similar messages promoting US study opportunities – including US Embassy in Kathmandu, Nepal stating it will resume routine student visa services “as soon as it is safe to do so” and the US Embassy in Dhaka, Bangladesh celebrating IEW2020 with a program of 10 webinars on “various topics related to studying in the US”.
In a letter to prospective students and parents, the US Ambassador to the Republic of Korea Harry Harris said that “international education is truly the backbone of the people-to-people ties between our two countries”.
“During this International Education Week, my message to the students and parents of Korea is clear: the door to the United States will always be wide open to qualified international students,” Harris wrote.
“No matter the challenges that we face, the State Department and the US Embassy will always support Korean students who seek academic success in the US.”
However, no similarly clear messaging came from the US Embassy in China.
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