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US updates consular guidance on study visa applications

The US Department of State has adjusted its guidance for consular officers who approve study visas for prospective international students relating to judgement on “intent to depart” – a move that stakeholders have welcomed and suggest will benefit international applicants seeking to study in the US.

US stakeholders have suggested the changes will benefit international applicants seeking to study in the US. Photo: pixabay

The US Citizenship Act of 2021, introduced in mid-February 2021, which would extend dual intent to F-1 students, is currently stalled in congress

The updated Residence Abroad Guidance states that officers should only be concerned with “present intent to depart” the US following the end of the program, and are not required to ask for ties of property, employment, and continuity of life that are required of short-term visa applicants.

Additionally, the US has said that it will extend visa interview waivers for international students and scholars through the end of 2022.

Organisations say that the changes will help students from around the globe to better navigate the requirements of the current immigration law.

“We are pleased by the restoration of the language in the Foreign Affairs Manual that instructs consular officers to consider the ‘inherent difference’ between a young F-1 visa applicant and more established short-term visa applicant,” said Jill Allen Murray, NAFSA’s deputy executive director of public policy.

“Restoring these helpful distinctions to the residence abroad requirement for F students was one of NAFSA’s key recommendations to the Department of State. This action ensures that the typical F-1 visa applicant won’t be penalised for not having the ‘ties of property, employment, and continuity of life’ that applicants for short-term visas, such as B tourists, might be expected to have, and instead to view these conditions in their proper context.”

The Presidents’ Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration has also long advocated for the State department to make the change in the consular guidance, its executive director, Miriam Feldblum, added.

“We commend the Biden administration and State department for the return to sensible residence abroad policy that clarifies the unique circumstances of international students when applying for visas to study here and will help US colleges and universities welcome top talent from around the globe,” she said.

“This is a crucial step for reinvigorating international student mobility.”

However, Allen Murray added that the move does not nullify the requirement that F student visa applicants must demonstrate nonimmigrant intent when applying for a visa.

“A change in law – in the Immigration and Nationality Act – is needed to give F international student visa applicants the option to have and express an intent to remain in the US permanently,” she explained.

“The FAM change is a welcome recognition of the realities of international student experiences”

The US Citizenship Act of 2021, introduced in mid-February 2021, which would extend dual intent to F-1 students, is currently stalled in congress, she noted.

“The FAM change is a welcome recognition of the realities of international student experiences,” Allen Murray continued.

“NAFSA continues to push for critical reforms that will enhance international students’ experience in the US and the ability of US higher education institutions to recruit and retain them: including expanding dual intent to F-1 students and establishing a path to a green card for international student graduates.”

In spring 2021, the Department of Homeland Security removed a proposed rule to amend the duration of status policy from its regulatory agenda, as NAFSA recommended.

“We also are calling on the Biden administration to adopt a comprehensive national strategy for international education, led by a White House coordinating council, which would include these policies and several other components,” Allen Murray added.

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