New data from the US state department shows 411,131 F-1 visas were issued in total in 2022, compared to 364,204 in 2019 (the last year unaffected by the pandemic).
Based on current trends, the government expects visa issuances for students to be even higher in 2023 than last year.
According to a state department official, over 393,000 F-1 visas have been issued this fiscal year up to the beginning of August.
Coming out of the pandemic, US consulates faced staffing shortages and a backlog of visa applications, leading to long delays for applicants and a scarcity of visa appointment slots.
But in India, where the greatest demand is coming from, student recruitment agents say this year has been much smoother.
Previously some candidates were forced to travel to other cities and countries to secure a slot or pay third-party “agents” hundreds of dollars to book appointments on their behalf.
But now a new US consulate has opened in Hyderabad, creating more capacity and meaning students in the region no longer have had to travel as far for visa appointments. Appointments also opened earlier in the year than previously, reducing the last-minute rush over summer.
Charges for visa booking services on the black market have also dropped to around 2,000 rupees (US$24) as a result of less demand, according to Naveen Yathapu, director at recruitment agency i20fever.
Yathapu said he had experienced around a 90% approval rate among his approximately 4,000 students this year.
“Things have got better”
But students who were rejected face long wait times before they can secure another appointment.
“The visa appointments were good for the first-timers but what it meant was the delay for the second timers was pretty, pretty bad,” Yathapu said.
US consulates have now released dates for second appointments for students who were not approved previously, but Yathapu believed this was too late for many, who will be unable to secure a visa in time for the fall intake.
“There’s no other option, they have to wait for six months. And a few kids, they don’t have the time to wait so they look for an alternate country,” he said.
Having learnt from last year, the agent said preparation for studying in the US is now starting much earlier.
“Things have got better. Students are better prepared and so are agencies like us and so are actually the universities,” said Yathapu.
“We know the problems so everyone has actually started with planning earlier.”
Almost 70% (274,880) of visas were issued to students from Asia in 2022. Of these, 115,115 went to Indian students, up from 80,451 in 2021.
A further 61,894 went to Chinese students, a decline (-28,416) on the previous year as travel restrictions continued.
The other biggest markets in Asia were South Korea (18,066), Japan (11,460), Vietnam (12,330), Bangladesh (7,754), Taiwan (6,913), and Nepal (6,175).
Within Europe, major markets included Germany (7,248), France (7,025), Italy (5,957) and Spain (5,518).
Approximately 7% of all visas were issued to African students, with the biggest groups of students coming from Nigeria (7,547), Ghana (3,331) and Ethiopia (1,951).
Despite concerns around high visa refusal rates, these three countries all saw growth compared to the previous year and approximately 6,000 more visas were granted to African students in total.
In South America, Brazil remained the largest source market (9,806), followed by Colombia (7,038).
- NAFSA is currently encouraging international educators to report specific visa denials/refusals by completing a survey to help inform its ongoing outreach to state department on this topic.