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Study destinations working to manage visa backlogs

While Indians are waiting up to 999 days to obtain US business or tourist visas, prospective students can expect to wait considerably less time.

Photo: iStock

Australia's education minister, Jason Clare recently stated that the country is "breaking the back of the student visa backlog"

Yet, some Indian students are still seeing visa delays which could see them miss the January intake, ultimately meaning they will need to defer, stakeholders have warned. Media reports have suggested that US is particularly affected, yet stakeholders have told The PIE that all countries are facing delays, with European destinations such as Germany a particular concern.

Some US institutions have reported issues surrounding visa delays while others have said problems are limited to very few numbers of applicants.

One told The PIE it is “seeing questions from admitted students regarding visas”, with some inquiring if they can arrive late for the spring 2023 term or defer to fall.

“During our recent interaction, a few students said their appointment slot is not until January. These are mainly students from India,” the school representative said.

International Student Applications Specialist & DSO at the University of Arkansas, Daisy Juarez, said that the school had not had as many deferral or late arrival requests from Indian students as previously, for spring 2023.

“I think that it was much worse in spring and fall 2022,” she said. “The bigger problem this time seems to be affecting Nigerian students, as they are reporting not being able to secure appointments until August 2023.”

Associate provost for International Programs at University of Delaware, Ravi Ammigan, noted that the school had “not seen major issues regarding visa issuance for incoming Indian students”.

“A few cases here and there but nothing to suggest a trend in deferral for Indian students coming to UD in 2023.”

Asked recently about visa delays, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said that the Biden administration is “aware of the issues” around wider visa delays beyond student applicants.

“While we have made great strides in recovering from the pandemic-related closures and staffing challenges, we are still working to respond to the significant demand of these visa services,” she told reporters on December 8.

“We are successfully lowering visa interview wait times – that’s around the world. And we’ve doubled our hiring of US foreign service personnel to do this important work. Visa processing is recovering faster than projected.”

The department of State has previously said it expects to reach pre‑pandemic visa processing levels by 2023.

It has also waived in-person interviews for some student applicants, which it said has been a factor in issuing “more student visas in FY 2022 than in any year since FY 2016”.

Analysis from Navitas recently found that the view of US processing times by agents has been “deteriorating slightly”.

According to Bindu Chopra, director at TC Global, visa delays are currently a concern for all destinations.

“Every single country now takes between four and six weeks minimum for visa decisions to be made. Even the UK, which has a service time of 15 working days. It’s taking at least four weeks,” she explained.

Managing directorSI-UK India, Lakshmi Iyer, suggested that with US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand “taking time to stabilise”, the UK could benefit.

“It is good news for the UK, however UK universities are struggling with capacity challenges and diversity concerns on their campuses,” she said.

“We are hoping that it’s only this intake”

Ireland is the one country that “is doing okay” despite having a much smaller cohort, Chopra noted.

“The Americans are a little more forthcoming,” she said, releasing more slots and doing regular social media updates.

However when dates are released, they are often blocked by unscrupulous agents that then sell the places on, she added.

“That’s across the board, by the way. Germany, for example, they couldn’t get dates last year and we had a lot of students still waiting and which means they missed the intake. And they had to move to the next intake. So this is not only a US problem…

“By summer next year, [US] staff strength will be back to pre-Covid, they should be completely back on track. So we are hoping that it’s only this intake, you know, but the other countries are equally bad. Europe is terrible. Germany is terrible… Canada is probably the worst in terms of delays.”

Australia’s education minister, Jason Clare – while announcing the new membership of the Council for International Education including IEAA, Universities Australia, Universities of Melbourne and Western Sydney among others – recently stated that the country is “breaking the back of the student visa backlog”.

“In May, more than 130,000 students were waiting overseas for their visa to be processed,” the minister said. “We have put more than 400 staff on to help process visas.

“And the number of students waiting overseas for visas is now down to just over 30,000. In other words, we have cut the waiting list by over three-quarters.”

Still, Bindu suggested that Australia has tightened up after receiving applications with fraudulent documents.

Earlier this year, agents from India were arrested after the US Embassy in New Delhi informed police they had attempted to obtain visas using fake documents.

“Australia used to be fairly straightforward but with a huge application form, so it was a tedious application, but there was hope at the end of the tunnel. Right now for the January intake, the rejections went up, I think by 50%,” Chopra told The PIE.

“Certain states are prone to fraudulent documents”

Earlier this year, Australian agencies detected some 600 fraud cases from the Haryana and Punjab regions of India. The result has been an uptick in rejections, Chopra continued.

“Certain states are prone to fraudulent documents. All countries are looking at them very, very seriously,” she said, with work experience documents being particularly prone to fraud.

“We’ve always maintained that if you have a gap, you have a gap. Explain it. You can have a gap. You’ve taken a gap year. You got a rejection, you started online, didn’t work out. So you have a gap. Why do you need to produce documents to prove that you are working, and there are no salary slips? Then you’re saying it was an unpaid internship? There are stories, I mean, we at TC Global could write a book. I’ve been here for 21 years, so ask me, I could certainly write a book.”

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