This year will mark another difficult one for international students as they continue to grapple with the current immigration policy in the U.S., which could be in flux in the coming year. They will also have to cope with American schools that are still alternating between in-person and remote learning. While the pandemic caused confusion for students in the U.S., it has been even more disruptive for international students who had to contend with remote learning while trying to figure out if they can enter the country.
Due to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the U.S. was forced to limit travel from other nations to prevent the spread of the deadly virus. At the same time, many schools, including colleges and universities, switched to remote learning for the same reasons. This placed international students in a dilemma about how to attend school.
How Many International Students are in the United States?
The number of international students in the country has been on the decline with only 1.1 million enrolled in U.S. institutions for the 2019-2020 school year. This represents a significant reduction in numbers from the previous year when there were 20,000 more students. There are multiple factors that attributed to this decline. The pandemic exacerbated an already difficult situation for international students. Some of the other components that played a role included the rising cost of education and increased opportunities for students to study in other countries, as well as the increase in the number of delays and denials of student visas.
Online learning did not have a dramatic impact on enrollment as the total number of international students enrolled in U.S. schools, which included those that were attending in-person and online, in the fall of 2020 declined by 16 percent from the year prior. Among that group, only one in five students was studying online from another country. Meanwhile, the number of new international students dropped by 43 percent as some elected to delay their education.
Why has There Been a Decline in International Students?
There is no single reason why there has been a decline in the number of international students in the United States. There have been several contributing factors that have led to those numbers; the primary cause being the ongoing pandemic. The virus has plagued not just the U.S. but other nations as well, forcing schools to close and people to shelter in their homes. To prevent the spread of the virus, the U.S. imposed travel bans, which prohibited travel from several nations. Even though there have been vaccines developed to protect against COVID-19, the nation has maintained some of its travel bans, while lifting a few others. For this year, limited travel will still be an obstacle that international students will still have to contend with.
Prior to the pandemic, the United States was re-examining student visas. Immigration services have been scrutinizing these applications more closely, which has created a backlog in the system. The federal government could be planning to change the way it examines those visas in the coming year, however that backlog has served as a deterrent for students.
Meanwhile, other nations have made their visa process easier for international students, leading them to gravitate toward those nations as a result. There could be additional changes to the visa process in the U.S., however that could take time and the backlog still remains. However, many students may find the system easier going forward this year.
What are the Different Types of Student Visas?
International students have several visa options that they can use when they wish to study in the U.S. Each pertains to a particular group or depends on the type of institution the student is attending and where they are from. The four categories of visas are:
- F-1 visa: This is the most common visa and applies to any international student attending an educational institution, including a college, university, high school, or if they are enrolled in a language training program.
- M-1 visa: This applies to students attending a vocational school or other non-academic institution.
- F-3 or M-3 visas: These are for students that live in Mexico or Canada who commute into the U.S. for their schooling. F-3 visas apply to those attending vocational schools and M-3 visas are for other institutions.
- J-1 visa: This is for those that participate in an educational or cultural exchange program. While it applies to students, it also can apply to physicians, summer work-travel visitors, visiting professors, research and short-term scholars, teachers, and au pairs.
Those who hold an F-1 visa are eligible to remain in the country for up to 12 months upon graduation, which is their Optional Practical Training (OPT) period. Afterwards, the person must find employment within the U.S. or be sponsored by a company that wishes to bring them on board. That company can sponsor the individual through an H-1B visa, which allows U.S.-based companies to sponsor a foreign nationalist for a position in a specialized field. Those visas, like the others, have also been the target for greater analysis. The Department of Homeland Security has published a final rule about these visas that will alter the way they are granted to prioritize those individuals with higher salaries.
This change will be one that international students may have to consider for their long-term plans.
How Will the Pandemic Impact International Students?
The COVID-19 pandemic will continue to be a factor for some time. In the meantime, educational facilities are trying to cope with the fluctuation in numbers as many cycle back from virtual learning to in-person learning. While many schools have attempted to implement a policy that will run for an entire semester or quarter, enrollment rates have forced them to make abrupt changes.
These disruptions can have a dramatic impact on international students who may not have the resources to find a place within the country to fulfill virtual learning. Until the numbers start to drop significantly, for the remainder of this year, a number of them will have to deal with the uncertainty of where they will be having class.
Philadelphia Immigration Lawyers at Surin & Griffin, P.C. Help International Students with All Types of Visa Matters
If you are an international student trying to get an education in this country but are having issues with the visa process, reach out to the Philadelphia immigration lawyers at Surin & Griffin, P.C. We can help you sort through the process and obtain the results you deserve. Contact us online or call 215-925-4435 for an initial consultation. Located in Philadelphia, we serve clients throughout Pennsylvania and nationwide.