In an attempt to simplify and fast-track US student visa processes for international students, the US Department of State issued new guidance to consular officers just before 2021 came to a close. The initiative is a direct response to complaints from US university officials who believe consulates deny students by falsely assuming “immigrant intent.” The change was made under 9 FAM 402.5-5(E)(1).
“The guidance is really just common sense,” said Lynden Melmed of Berry Appleman and Leiden in an interview. “Foreign students must still show an intent to depart the US, but it reminds consular officers that they must not make assumptions about what might happen in the future.”
The text added to the Foreign Affairs Manual issued on Dec. 20, 2021, reads: “The statute clearly presupposes that the natural circumstances and conditions of being a student do not disqualify that applicant from obtaining a student visa.”
“It is natural that the student does not possess ties of property, employment, and continuity of life typical of B visa applicants. These ties are typically weakly held by student applicants, as the student is often single, unemployed, without property, and is at the stage in life of deciding and developing their plans for the future.”
Advocates pleased with US student visa policy changes
Study abroad advocates are pleased with the news. Jill Allen Murray, NAFSA’s deputy executive director of public policy, confirms that “restoring these helpful distinctions to the residence abroad requirement for F students was one of NAFSA’s key recommendations to the Department of State”.
“This action ensures that the typical F-1 visa applicant won’t be penalised for not having the ‘ties of property, employment, and continuity of life’ that applicants for short-term visas, such as B tourists, might be expected to have, and instead to view these conditions in their proper context.”
Miriam Feldblum, executive director of the Presidents’ Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration, has long advocated for the Department of State to make the change.
“We commend the Biden administration and State Department for the return to sensible residence abroad policy that clarifies the unique circumstances of international students when applying for visas to study here and will help US colleges and universities welcome top talent from around the globe. This is a crucial step for reinvigorating international student mobility,” she says.
The Biden administration’s move for new guidance was set in place to help universities regain lustre dampened by restrictive US student visa and immigration policies.
Other steps in the right direction have been taken before this. For example, more than 55,000 Indian students and exchange visitors have been granted their visas in 2021 despite various disruptions.
On Sept. 16, 2021, consular offices were additionally given the choice to waive the interview requirement for some F-1 students, providing for faster decisions to be made once visa services could be resumed.