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From: Karin Fischer
Subject: Latitudes: For students from Africa, visa denials may stand in the way of studying in America
U.S. student visas are denied by different rates, depending on region of the world
More than half of all applications for U.S. visas from African students were denied in 2022, part of a yearslong pattern of sky-high refusal rates in a part of the world seen by many as the
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U.S. student visas are denied by different rates, depending on region of the world
More than half of all applications for U.S. visas from African students were denied in 2022, part of a yearslong pattern of sky-high refusal rates in a part of the world seen by many as the next big thing in international admissions.
A new analysis of U.S. Department of State student-visa data shows significant differences in denial rates by region. In Europe, fewer than 10 percent of applications are typically rejected. But in Africa, denial rates for student visas, known as F-1s, have been at or near 50 percent across the eight-year period studied, the 2015 to 2022 fiscal years.
“These disparate outcomes call for sustained, serious investigation,” said Miriam Feldblum, executive director of the Presidents’ Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration, a nonprofit group that advocates for international-student-friendly policies. The alliance published the data, obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, in partnership with Shorelight, an international-education company.
Overall denial rates for U.S. student visas spiked in 2022 around the globe, with one in three F-1 applications rejected — a development the State Department has attributed to “unprecedented demand” as international study resumed following Covid-19.
The Shorelight-Presidents’ Alliance analysis is the first to disaggregate visa rejections by region, and it shows some consistent trend lines over time, regardless of the pandemic or of presidential administration, said Rajika Bhandari, a senior adviser to the alliance and an author of the report. While denial rates did increase under President Donald J. Trump, who pushed for more-restrictive visa policies, the regional disparities were evident across the three administrations represented in the data.
In addition to Africa, Asia — in particular, Southern Asian countries like India, Nepal, and Pakistan — have had higher F-1 rejection rates. In 2022, 36 percent of applications from Asian students were denied.
Still, the 54-percent rejection rate for African students is an order of magnitude greater. The report estimates that some 92,000 visas were denied over the period studied. (Denial figures include an unknown number of applicants who successfully reapplied and were granted visas.)
“This report refutes the notion that these are isolated incidents,” Bhandari said.
In a written response to Chronicle questions, a State Department spokesperson said that student visas are adjudicated on a case-by-case basis and that, worldwide, most students receive visas after their first application.
In 2022, nearly 31,000 visas were issued to students from African countries, significantly more than in any of the previous five years, the spokesperson noted. In the current fiscal year, which began on October 1, 2022, more than 5,200 F-1 visas have been issued so far to Nigerian applicants alone.
Quoting Antony J. Blinken, the secretary of state, the spokesperson called facilitating the presence of foreign students on American campuses a “foreign-policy imperative.”
“International student mobility is central to diplomacy, innovation, economic prosperity, and national security.”
The high number of denials in Africa is especially troubling because the continent has been seen by many educators as a promising new source of international students as enrollments from China, long the top sender of students to the United States, decline. With the number of domestic students also contracting, tuition dollars from abroad are even more critical to American colleges.
Sixty percent of Africa’s 1.25 billion residents are under age 25. Because of an insufficient number of local universities to meet the growing demand, more students from Africa travel internationally to earn a degree than from anywhere else in the world.
Despite that potential, American colleges may think twice about building up their recruitment capacity in Africa if the returns on that investment, in actual enrolled students, are poor. In China, by contrast, visa-denial rates were 15 percent or lower in all but one of the past eight years. In 2022, nine out of 10 Chinese student-visa applications were approved.
Denials could also discourage African students from applying to the United States.
One Nigerian student, now in a master’s program in computer science at a public university in a Southeastern state, said he had to apply three times before finally getting a visa. When he received his first rejection, after a brief, two-minute interview, he said he felt enormous disappointment. “I felt like all my efforts went right down the drain.”
Still, the student, who asked that he not be named because of his student-visa status, said he was determined to study in the United States because of the quality of education here, particularly in artificial intelligence, his area of interest. “I’m the kind of person who will keep going until I hear yes,” he said.
West African countries like Nigeria had the highest denial rates within Africa, 71 percent in 2022. But even within the continent, rejection rates varied widely — the lowest, of 16 percent, were in Southern Africa.
High denial rates are no surprise to Imran Vaghoo, an independent college counselor in Kenya. He’s part of several local international-student Facebook groups and said many prospective students are ill prepared for visa interviews by consular officials. In addition, some applicants seek student visas as a backdoor way to come to the United States because of the difficulty of getting an immigrant visa. Bad actors “create problems for all students,” Vaghoo said.
But Stephen Appiah-Padi, director of global and off-campus education at Bucknell University, said such incidents shouldn’t lead to rejections of qualified students. If there are issues, said Appiah-Padi, who came to America as an international student from Ghana, “we must be creative in solving that problem rather than punishing students.”
Report offers policy recommendations on student visas
The Shorelight-Presidents’ Alliance report doesn’t diagnose the reasons behind the disparities in denial rates, but the authors make several policy recommendations for improving visa issuance for all students. “We have to address what we know are the root causes of visa denials broadly,” said Jill Welch, a senior policy adviser to the alliance for international-student policy.
Among the report’s recommendations, Congress should eliminate the requirement that prospective international students demonstrate that they plan to return home after their studies in order to get a visa. The failure to prove “nonimmigrant intent” is the reason that most nonimmigrant visas, including F-1s, are denied.
The Biden administration in late 2021 updated policy guidance to consular officials, telling them to use more discretion in assessing the intent of student applicants. Students, the guidance said, are not able to show the strong ties to their home countries, like a job or property, that are typically used as evidence that they plan to return.
While Welch praised the guidance, which went into effect during the tail end of the period covered by the report, she said that it may not have been carried out fully or consistently by consulates around the world. For example, consular officers may deny visas because students express interest in working in the United States after graduation, or may ask students to provide proof that they have funds for their entire program of study, both practices that they are cautioned against in the guidance. The State Department should provide training to ensure that the policy is consistently applied, Welch said.
The report also called on the department to improve training and guidance specifically for outposts with high denial rates. And it said that officials should provide “clear and transparent” information in writing to students when their visas are denied. Often, they are given no reason that their application is rejected.
Anthropologist group approves boycott of Israeli universities
Members of the American Anthropological Association have approved a boycott of Israeli academic institutions.
The resolution, which does not apply to individual Israeli scholars or students, passed with 71 percent of the vote. However, just 37 percent of the group’s members voted. The ban covers association activities, not those of members.
In a statement, the group’s president said the resolution could help draw attention to the impact of the Israeli government’s policies on the Palestinian people and ”expand the space for dialogue” on issues of human rights and academic freedom. The organization’s executive board will re-evaluate the boycott at least every five years.
Critics of the resolution have threatened legal action.
Around the globe
Legislation introduced in Congress would allow international graduate students in science and technological fields to get lawful permanent-resident status in the United States.
The U.S. House voted to strip educational funding from colleges and public schools that house migrants on their campuses. The bill, which passed along party lines, is not expected to win Senate approval.
A United Nations committee is developing guidance for integrating sustainable-development goals into college rankings.
International investigators have ended their inquiry into the 2014 disappearance of 43 college students in Mexico, saying the investigators had been repeatedly misled and thwarted in their work by Mexican military officials.
President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi of Egypt has pardoned a graduate student at the University of Bologna, in Italy, who had been detained in Egypt while on a trip home and sentenced to three years in prison as part of a government crackdown on dissent.
The German government plans to withhold funds from research projects where there is a risk of “knowledge drain” to China and will also make scholars more aware of potential security issues in academic cooperation with China.
A Chinese professor estimates the youth jobless rate in the country is close to 50 percent, more than double official unemployment numbers.
China plans an overhaul of its vocational-education system as a way to reduce unemployment and skills shortages.
A government-appointed committee that is reviewing Australia’s higher-education system called international education a “crucial element” of the country’s “soft diplomacy, regional prosperity, and development” but warned that universities have become too reliant on international-student tuition as a source of revenue.
Australia’s education minister has proposed levying a fee on revenue from international-student tuition and fees to help pay for student housing or research.
Pakistan’s cabinet has approved a measure that would give the country’s prime minister greater control over higher education. It still must be approved by the Parliament.
Taliban officials said only male students would be allowed to take Afghanistan’s national college-entrance exam.
And finally …
For this week’s recommended readings, I have two sobering looks at the toll war is taking on Ukraine’s academic and scientific communities. Undark reports that 15 percent of the country’s scientists have fled, and many of those left behind must work out of labs damaged by military attacks. In a wartime economy, recovery could take a long time.
And The New York Times has a dispatch from the commencement ceremonies at a university forced to relocate because of Russian bombardment. One new graduate of Maripol State University, whose husband lost a leg fighting Russian forces, said being able to continue her studies was a lifeline during the chaos of war. “It was very hard to focus, but our lessons were a distraction from the war, I can even say a kind of salvation,” she said.
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