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According to a NAFSA Member Interest Group that focuses on China, thousands of Chinese students are to set to miss out on travelling to the US because of visa processing delays. Now, a petition has been launched by the group to raise awareness of what it describes as the ‘Chinese F1 Student Visa Crisis for 2021 – 2022 School Year’.
The petition claims that US F1 visa services in the Communist country have been closed for over 13 months, while hundreds of thousands of F1 visa applications already face delays.
Additionally, the petition argues that even if schools and universities were to fully return to on-campus learning this fall, most Chinese students would be unable to obtain their US visas on time before they can travel.
Closed for 13 months
Chief learning officer at WholeRen Group and vice-chair of the NAFSA China MIG, Andrew Hang Chen, told The PIE News: “From February of last year Chinese student visa processing has been effectively closed for 13 months. Occasionally there are appointments available, but the pattern is that the appointments are always cancelled.”
According to Chen, US consulates in Beijing, Shanghai and Shenyang are not offering F1 visa appointments. He did state that one consulate in Guangzhou is offering appointments, but that the earliest available slot is on August 12.
A statement on US embassy and consulate websites in China states: “US consulates in China are currently unable to resume routine immigrant and non-immigrant US visa services at this time. We will resume routine visa services as soon as possible but are unable to provide a specific date.”
The statement went on to explain that US consulates will continue to offer emergency and mission-critical visa services subject to resources and local regulations.
Concern over travel restrictions
Director of government relations at the American Council on Education, Sarah Spreitzer, told The PIE News: “We continue to be concerned about the ability of international students to travel to the US for their studies in the fall semester.”
“We have asked US State Department and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to look into taking action, including waiving interview requirements for new F1 visa applicants if consulates are unable to reopen in time and prioritizing the processing of student visa applications. We will continue to press the Biden administration, especially given the timely nature of these issues for our institutions and students,” Spreitzer added.
Official data compiled by Open Doors, shows that were a total of 372,532 Chinese students in the US in 2019 – 2020, contributing a reported $15.9 billion to the US economy.
Chen warned that if delays continue, Chinese students will head to countries like Canada and the UK to study. He added that students and their families may not continue to see remote learning as a ‘value for money option’ should students be denied the opportunity to study on-campus.
Chen said: I think the solution has to be between the State Department of the US and their counterparts in China. And this has to be a priority. From my observation, both countries actually encourage student mobility. It’s only the practical issue of getting the visa officers back to their positions. Or they start some kind of mail-in application.”
Reach out to policymakers
The petition started by Chen is urging those in the international education sector to reach out to policymakers and directly related organizations in the US and China – including the State Department, the DHS, United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the White House, China Department of Diplomacy, and the Chinese Embassy in the United States.
Under the Trump administration, US-China relations sank to a new low amid an ongoing tit-for-tat spat, with the US accusing China of espionage after several Chinese nationals were arrested for alleged J1 visa fraud.
In September 2020, the Trump administration revoked the US visas of more than 1,000 Chinese students and researchers. Meanwhile, in December of the same year, further US visa sanctions were imposed on members of the Chinese Communist Party.
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