‘Restore the US as a destination of choice’: NY unis urge government to bring international students back

US universities
Leaders in US universities say April and May are critical months for the processing of visas for the fall 2021 semester. Source: Sam Wasson/Getty Images North America/Getty Images via AFP

A total of 17 presidents and chancellors of universities throughout New York have urged the US government to take a series of immediate actions that will allow greater numbers of international students to return to US universities for the fall 2021 semester. They are urging the reopening of embassies and consulates to process student visas and facilitate visa appointments.

“While colleges and universities in our state vary in size, mission, and the makeup of our student profiles, we share common ground in our desire to attract the top students and faculty from within the US and around the globe,” they said in a letter to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas.

They request the following: 

  • The reopening of the embassy and consulates in China for F-1 student visa appointments and processing
  • Allow consular officers either to waive the requirement for in-person interviews or if a waiver is unavailable, allow for online interviews
  • Consider authorising a student exemption, even as travel restrictions continue for several countries and regions 

A critical period for US universities

Leaders of US universities said April and May are critical months for the processing of visas for the fall 2021 semester. “International students must make their country choices and begin applying for their visas in April to ensure they can arrive in time for the beginning of the fall semester. By taking action now, you can deliver a welcoming message to current and prospective international students, restore the US as a destination of choice, and support an important source of economic activity as we recover from the COVID-19 pandemic,” they said. 

US universities said recent surveys show a 43% decline in new international student enrolment at US institutions during the pandemic, partly because of public health-related travel restrictions and partly because of policies of the previous administration. “According to NAFSA, the overall economic activity generated by international students declined by US$1.8 billion during the 2019-20 academic year, from US$40.5 billion in the prior year. The declining enrolment numbers in 2020 simply adds to the challenges of our economic recovery as we rebuild from the global pandemic,” they said. 

“If the US is to retain its position of preeminence in the wake of COVID-19, our policies must not only keep students and communities safe, but also ensure minimal disruption for the students and scholars whose academic contributions are essential to maintaining steady economic growth.”