F-1 student visas
COVID-19 has affected the number of F-1 student visas that were issued to Indian students. Source: Rob Carr/Getty Images/AFP

The US has issued significantly fewer F-1 student visas to Indians amid COVID-19 as visa processing services were temporarily suspended, according to data from the US State Department via Business TodayThe US had granted nearly 15,000 F-1 student visas to Indian nationals between October 2019 and September 2020, a drop of 64% compared to the previous year. This is the lowest number of student visas issued in a financical year since 1999-2000. For immigration, the financial year in the US begins from October and ends in September, said the report.

In a similar trend, the number of L-1 and H-1B visas issued to Indians fell by 46% and 28%, respectively, in FY20 as compared to the previous year. The H-1B visa is a non-immigrant visa that allows US companies to employ foreign workers in occupations that require specialised knowledge. The L-1 visa is also a non-immigrant visa that allows for internal company transfers.

Number of F-1 student visas issued plunges amid COVID-19

According to the report, the drop in F-1 student visas was mainly due to the COVID-19 outbreak as the Department of State had temporarily suspended routine visa processing services. US visa offices in India had also cancelled processing of visa applications from March 16, 2020.

International students in the US have had a tumultuous year under the Trump administration which introduced many policies that were viewed as hostile towards foreign students. In July, the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) released a directive stating international students who were taking an online course load could not remain in the US for the fall 2020 semester. While the policy was eventually rescinded, the reversal didn’t apply to newly admitted international students who require F-1 visa sponsorship, fuelling anxiety for many foreign students. Other controversial policies included the proposal to temporarily suspend H-1B visas and other types of foreign work visas until the end of 2020 to protect American workers. 

International students enrolled in academic programmes at US universities and colleges study on an F-1 visa while those enrolled in technical programmes at vocational or other recognised non-academic institutions come to the US on an M-1 visa. According to the Institute of International Education (IIE), China is the largest source of international students in the US in 2018/19 with 369,548 students, followed by India (202,014),  South Korea (52,250), Saudi Arabia (37,080) and Canada (26,122).