US visa
Could a trip to Singapore expedite your return to the US? Source: Roslan Rahman/AFP

Obtaining a US visa to study abroad today is not impossible — but for some, it may require a workaround. Chinese students such as Neal Yin, for example, have flown to Singapore, quarantined there for 14 days, then obtained their US visa before flying directly to the US. Could this be a viable option for international students?

Let’s analyse.

Challenges processing US visa

Your first option should always be to obtain a visa at your local US embassy or consulate. However, it is also possible to obtain a visa in other countries such as Singapore — which is popular for its political and travel connections. Who might consider this?

US visa

Residents of China may not travel to the US, but international students with the right documents may still enter the country. Source: Nicolas Asfouri/AFP

International students in China, for one. Although international students are exempt from the US travel ban against China, the scarce availability of facilities and appointments there has made it hard for Chinese students to get their visa. Those who are determined to make it to campus in time for the semester may try to enter the US via another country.

As another example, in India, US embassies finally began accepting student visa appointments on June 14. However, mounting technical difficulties have Indian students worried they won’t get their US visa in time, either. The consular website was unable to support the traffic of requests, making it impossible for many students to access the booking site.

Can international students enter Singapore?

Singapore is accepting short-term travellers from a list of approved countries. You must obtain an Air Travel Pass and visa. If you have a valid visa that was previously suspended due to the pandemic, it is still accepted now.  Additionally, the Singapore Airlines website also states, “All travellers entering or transiting through Singapore, including Singapore citizens and permanent residents, are required to take a pre-departure Covid-19 Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) test within 72 hours before their flight.”

Take note that you must stay at your declared departure point for 21 days before leaving Singapore. Besides that, you must also do a PCR test on arrival and quarantine for up to 48 hours before you get a result. You also have to submit all health and travel declarations on the SG Arrival Card — online or via the Visit Singapore Travel Guide app. Check all arrangements with a visa agent before making your trip.

US visa

Short-term travellers from a list of approved countries can enter Singapore. Source: Joe Raedle/Getty Images/AFP

US visa appointments still scarce

Even if you can get into Singapore, visa appointments are limited. “The planning is exhausting,” Yin told The Brown Daily Herald. “You (had) to basically wake up every morning and go on the website and just stare for one hour to see if there are any spots left.”

However, there is no guarantee that international students will leave Singapore with the US visa they seek. Outside of immigration guidelines, obtaining a visa during the pandemic depends on several uncertain factors, which can be tough to align.

“Many students have had visa appointments or flights booked only to have them cancelled and have to adjust enrollment plans last minute, sometimes more than once,” Kelsey Dennis, assistant director of International Student Services at the Office of International Student and Scholar Services at Brown University, illustrated.

In conclusion, obtaining a US visa and travelling there via Singapore is technically possible. However, you remain at the mercy of ever-changing pandemic restrictions, which affect flights, accommodation, and the operation of visa facilities. We advise you only proceed with this route if you have the resources to do so.