Last week, the American Immigration Counsel reported a sharp, one-year decline in the number of F-1 Student Visas issued to international students seeking to study in US colleges and universities. According to the Counsel, the State Department “only issued 393,573 international student (F-1) visas last year, representing a 17 percent drop from 2016 and a near-40 percent decrease from the peak year of 2015.” The reason: “school officials are reporting that international students are facing higher scrutiny from the State Department before being granted a visa.” The result: “American universities [are] less diverse and financially solvent.”
Colleges and universities throughout Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York are already feeling the impact, as international students constitute a significant source of annual revenue. International students pay full tuition—if not a higher, international student rate—and are ineligible for most institutional assistance as well as federal grants, aid, or loans. This annual, prepaid tuition has become essential to offset increasing financial aid awards and necessary expenses for US citizens and lawful permanent resident students.
The Counsel correctly attributed the decline in F-1 student visas to increased scrutiny of visa applications and supporting documents. Increased scrutiny is simply ensuring perfection in every filing and preparation for every possibility. Nearly all F-1 visa denials result from incorrect, inaccurate, and inadequate submissions because of student or sponsoring college errors. Missing forms. Incorrect SEVIS codes. Mistaken dates. Failure to comply with immigration regulations and filing requirements. And the list continues. The State Department is reviewing every document, every line on an application, every transcript….everything.
To protect the necessary international student revenue, colleges and universities must recognize that student-based immigration matters are far from simple, particularly under the current Administration. The visa denials can be avoided with proper training of international student personnel and administrators, third-party review and audits of immigration processes, development of standard operating procedures to handle concerns arising domestically and abroad, and retention of outside immigration counsel to ensure on-call, complete compliance in every aspect.