On August 10, the Presidents’ Alliance joined NAFSA and Shorelight in meeting with Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Visa Services, Julie Stufft, and her team about the recent visa report detailing high visa denial rates in the Global South, especially in Africa, issued by Shorelight and the Presidents’ Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration. The meeting provided an opportunity to substantively discuss the concerns raised by the report and agree on next steps in ensuring continuous improvement of visa processing for international students around the globe, including students from Africa. As part of our ongoing advocacy efforts, we will continue to raise inconsistencies in visa processing to help identify issues that the State Department can address and will ask for further input from our members to inform that engagement.
- State Dept/Consular Affairs: Julie Stufft (Deputy Assistant Secretary for Visa Services); Brian McInerney (Director, Visa Operations); Madeline Bennett (Visa Analyst)
- NAFSA: Association of International Educators (NAFSA): Fanta Aw, Rachel Banks
- Presidents Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration (PAHEI): Miriam Feldblum, Jill Welch
- Shorelight: Shelley Landry
Key takeaways from the meeting included:
- We briefed the State Department on concerns about inconsistencies with visa issuance in the Global South, especially in Africa, noting in particular the importance of the African continent to higher education and foreign policy goals.
- According to top consular officials, the State Department is 100 percent committed to international students choosing the United States as their top choice for higher education.
- The Bureau of Consular Affairs models continuous improvement and has taken important steps to facilitate visa processing, including improvements in administration processing, the electronic I-20, 365-day window to apply for a visa.
- The Bureau is committed to addressing any inconsistencies in requirements, experience, or treatment. An applicant should have the same opportunity to secure a student visa regardless of where in the world he/she applies.
- While the Bureau noted it is on track to issue a record number of student visas overall and across Africa this year, it appreciated the report’s recommendations as it continually seeks to improve visa processing.
- The Bureau committed to meeting on a regular basis to share information about the visa process in various posts around the world.
- Members are encouraged to continue to raise issues and concerns related to visa processing with us in order to address any inconsistencies.
- We have asked the State Department for a specific meeting dedicated to addressing international student mobility for students from Africa.
Points specifically conveyed by Deputy Assistant Secretary for Visa Services Julie Stufft during the meeting:
The Department of State is committed to international students and continuously improving student visa processing.
- Almost one million international students studied last year in U.S. higher education institutions, maintaining the United States’ long-standing position as the world’s top host nation for international students.
- International student mobility is central to diplomacy, innovation, economic prosperity, and national security.
- As Secretary Blinken has said, facilitating the ability of foreign students and academic exchange visitors to study at U.S. universities and colleges is a foreign policy imperative.
- Last year (FY 2022), the Department issued the most student visas in a year since FY 2016. Our Embassy and Consulates in India broke the all-time record for most student and exchange visitor visas issued in a year, issuing more than 125,000 visas.
We are issuing more student visas to applicants from African countries than before.
- In FY2022, we issued over 30,000 student visas to applicants from African countries–more than in any of the previous six years, and our embassies and consulates in Nigeria and Ghana issued more student visas last year than in any year in the past two decades.
- So far this fiscal year, we have issued 90 percent more student visas across Africa than during the same time period in pre-pandemic 2019.
- Further visa statistics can be found on our website:https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/legal/visa-law0/visa-statistics.html.
- According to the Institute of International Education’s (IIE) 2022 Open Doors report, during the pandemic, Sub-Saharan Africa was the only region that saw increased numbers of students studying in the United States. In 2021-22, the United States welcomed 42,518 students from Africa, a 9% increase from pre-pandemic levels, with Nigeria experiencing its highest student mobility numbers in more than 30 years.
Consular officers are trained to provide fair and consistent treatment for all visa applicants.
- Worldwide, most student visa applicants receive a visa upon adjudication. All visa applications are adjudicated on a case-by case-basis, in accordance with the provisions of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) and applicable federal regulations. The Department provides every consular officer with rigorous training on not only the rules and regulations underpinning visa adjudications but also on the importance of treating each interview as a diplomatic engagement.