A petition has been launched by members of the group to raise awareness of what it calls the “Chinese F-1 Student Visa Crisis for 2021-2022 School Year”.
“From February of last year Chinese student visa processing has been effectively closed”
According to the petition US F-1 visa services in China have been closed for over 13 months, and hundreds of thousands of F-1 cases are already backlogged.
It claims that even if schools and universities decide to fully return to on-campus learning this fall, most Chinese students will not be able to obtain their visas on time before they can travel to the US.
“From February of last year Chinese student visa processing has been effectively closed for 13 months,” Andrew Hang Chen, chief learning officer at WholeRen Group, and vice-chair of the NAFSA China MIG told The PIE News.
“Occasionally there are appointments available, but the pattern is that the appointments are always cancelled.”
Chen explained that US consulates at Beijing, Shanghai, Shenyang are not offering F-1 visa appointments. He said there is one consulate in Guangzhou that is offering appointments, but the earliest available appointment is August 12.
A statement on the US embassy and consulates in China website says that US consulates in the country remain “unable to resume routine immigrant and nonimmigrant 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 said.
It explained that the US consulates will continue to provide “emergency and mission-critical visa services as resources and local conditions allow”.
A State Department spokesperson told The PIE that the US embassy and consulates in China are still operating at reduced capacity due to the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as travel restrictions on foreign nationals who have been in China up to 14 days prior to their attempted entry into the United States.
“However, Chinese nationals have obtained F-1 visas from embassies and consulates in countries outside of China, after they have demonstrated to a consular officer they have spent the last 14 days outside of a country subject to U.S. travel restrictions,” the spokesperson said.
“An embassy or consulate will resume adjudicating all routine nonimmigrant and immigrant visa cases only when adequate resources are available and it is safe to do so.
“We have been resuming routine visa services on a post-by-post basis, following State Department guidance to safely return our workforce and the public to Department facilities.”
The spokesperson said that US embassies and consulates continue to provide emergency and mission-critical visa services.
“As post-specific conditions improve, our embassies and consulates will begin providing additional services, prioritising routine services to US citizens and processing immigrant visa applications.
“Posts will resume all routine visa services completely as soon as it is safe to do so for the public and for our workforce,” they added.
According to The Department of State, posts that process nonimmigrant visa applications are prioritising travellers with urgent needs, foreign diplomats, mission-critical categories of travellers (such as those coming to assist with the U.S. response to the COVID-19 pandemic), students, and temporary employment visas.
Applicants should check the website of the nearest embassy or consulate for current operating status.
“We continue to be concerned about the ability of international students to travel to the US for their studies in the fall semester,” Sarah Spreitzer, director government relations at the American Council on Education told The PIE.
“We have asked State and DHS to look into taking actions including waiving interview requirements for new F-1 visa applicants if consulates are unable to reopen in time and prioritising the processing of student visa applications.
“We will continue to press this with the Biden administration especially given the timely nature of these issues for our institutions and students.”
“I think the solution has to be between the State Department of the US and their counterparts in China”
According to Open Doors data, there were a total of 372,532 Chinese students in the US in 2019/20. Their economic impact for 2019 was close to $15.9 billion.
Chen warned that Chinese students will see other countries like the UK and Canada as more attractive study abroad options than the US, if the visa processing issues continue.
He also noted that students and their families might not see continued remote learning as a value for money option if students are unable to reach US campuses.
“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.”
To achieve this, Chen’s petition is calling for those in the international education sector to reach out to policymakers and directly related organisations in the United States and in China such as the State Department, Department of Homeland Security, USCIS, the White House, China Department of Diplomacy, the Chinese Embassy in the United States.
Update 15:35 GMT: this article has been updated to include comment from The US Department of State.