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NAFSA calls for video conference visa appointments

US international education association NAFSA has requested the country’s Department of State to waive in-person visa interview requirements and put in place video conferencing for interviews.

NAFSA has requested the Department to waive the personal appearance requirement for visa interviews "in the national interest and due to unusual or emergent circumstances". Photo: pxfuel

NAFSA also asked that the department provide an estimate as to when the suspension of routine visa services might be lifted

The organisation has written to acting deputy assistant secretary for Visa Services, Edward J. Ramotowski, asking the in-person requirements to be dropped “to the fullest extent allowable under the law”.

“US schools and exchange visitor programs need clarity now on future visa issuance”

In March, the department issued guidance allowing consular officers “to expand the categories of H-2 visa applicants whose applications can be adjudicated without an in-person interview”, NAFSA noted.

“There is recent precedent,” the organisation said.

“US schools and exchange visitor programs need clarity now on future visa issuance in order to plan for and conduct a successful fall 2020 semester,” NAFSA executive director & CEO Esther D. Brimmer said.

“Even though the date and scope might change because of exigencies and unforeseen Covid-19-related issues, knowing the plan the department aspires to for restoring routine visa services will greatly assist in planning for the start of the upcoming academic year.”

Additionally, NAFSA asked that the department provide an estimate as to when the suspension of routine visa services might be lifted, and what the process for lifting the suspension will be.

When processes return to usual, NAFSA suggested visa appointments and processing for international students and exchange visitors be expedited as students face hard start deadlines and ” delays can devastate educational plans and enrolments”.

If routine visa services are not restored worldwide in time for the next year, NAFSA called for prospective students to be offered “emergency appointments”.

“If it is not possible for routine visa services to be restored worldwide we ask that the department instruct US consulates that international students and exchange visitors should be considered eligible for emergency appointments at each consulate,” Brimmer continued.

NAFSA also suggested international students and exchange visitors in countries subject to a country-specific Covid-19 presidential proclamation be deemed eligible for an exception to the rule as “an alien whose entry would be in the national interest, as determined by the secretary of State, the secretary of Homeland Security, or their designees”.

Despite the Covid-19 crisis, an IIE survey published in May showed that responding US institutions reported that some 251,385 international students were on campus in spring 2020.

“Since the outbreak, institutions reported that 18,551 international students have left,” explained Mirka Martel, IIE’s head of Research, Evaluation & Learning.

“As a result, we saw that 92% of international students from these institutions have remained in the United States for the spring, whether on campus or in another location.”

The latest Open Doors data revealed international student first time enrolment at US institutions continued to decline (-0.9%) for the third year running in 2018/19, with data showing a total of 269,383 students enrolling for the first time in fall 2018.

A State Department official said that the department “fully understands the importance of international students to educational institutions across the US”.

“Historically, posts worldwide have generally offered priority appointment scheduling for student visa applicants, and the Department anticipates resuming this practice once routine visa services resume,” they added.

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