While denials were “primarily clustered” in Africa, South Asia and some areas of the Middle East in 2015, by 2022 rejections were more common in a broad range of countries.
Globally, only Australia, China, Brazil, South Africa and some European countries were not suffering from increased denials, the Interview of a Lifetime report notes.
South America saw visa denials more than double over the seven years, from 10% rising to 24% in 2022.
Data featured in the report includes new FOIA stats obtained by education company Shorelight, as well as public US data, IIE Open Doors and UN and World Bank sources.
The paper, that has been produced by Shorelight and the Presidents’ Alliance, suggests that denial rises could be down to increased scrutiny by consular officers of financial documents and students’ post-graduation plans, changes in consular staffing, guidance, or training and increased global demand for visas, among other factors.
The current dual intent rule, which stakeholders have long called to change for student applicants, means F-1 visa applicants must be able to show they plan to return home after their students.
Australia has also seen increases in denials in recent years, which IEAA has said was down to untrained staff at consulates as well as increased cases of fraud. The new report features a list of recommendations for increased training and guidance for US consulates.
The analysis “evokes” the question of whether fluctuating denial rates between 2015-2022 are a “reflection of national policies and an overall negative public narrative toward international students and immigrants in general, especially those from certain countries and regions”, it said.
Denial rates for African countries, excluding South Africa, remained the highest during this eight-year period, the report notes.
Stakeholders earlier this year reported concerns around visa denials in Sub-Saharan Africa, with denial rates for F1 visas in Nigeria reaching “a new high” last year. However, this paper asks whether hosting international students from the region is a “missed opportunity”.
Canada has also seen a rise in visa rejections, especially among applicants from Africa. Each rejection letter is both “personally devastating” for students and also represents a “failure of process, a waste of resources for the student and for the institution”, as noted by CBIE.
The paper highlights that the four countries constituting Southern Africa see “substantially and consistently lower” refusal rates than the rest of the continent.
In 2022, Southern Africa saw a 16% refusal rate, compared with Western Africa, which saw the highest refusal across the continent, at 71%.
“By 2022, the denial rate for African students had risen to 54%”
“By 2022, the denial rate for African students had risen to 54% [including Southern Africa], indicating that just over half of all African student visas were denied as compared with 36% of Asian students and just 9% of students from Europe,” it stated.
The US has taken “steps to streamline our visa process and make it easier for students to apply” since last year, according to US secretary of state Antony Blinken who addressed attendees at NAFSA 2023.
While other competitor countries face accommodation shortages, the US is considered to be a study destination that has excess capacity. During a launch of a refugee program across US campuses in July, chief executive officer of IIE, Allan Goodman, noted that the US has the “capacity that no other country has”.
An upcoming undergraduate “enrolment cliff” is also expected to severely impact domestic enrolments across the country over the next decade.
The report continues to ask whether the US is missing out on a larger number of qualified international students as a result of “unusually high” visa denial rates.
It calculates that between 2018-2022, an estimated 92,051 “potentially qualified” African students were denied US visas.
Dual intent should be expanded for F-1 applicants, is one of the recommendations outlined in the report.
Additionally, authors say the White House should continue to articulate the importance of international students to the US and visa policy, processing and communications should signal to international students and scholars that they are welcome in the country.
Other recommendations to improve adjudication include: reminders to consular officers that attendance at lesser-known colleges, English language programs or community colleges is not a reason for refusing student visas; officials should not ask for proof of multiple years of funding when assessing financial means; clear guidance that post-graduation work interests are not grounds for denial; as well as providing “transparent and clear” information to students about visa denials.
“While resolving visa barriers is not within the purview of individual US colleges and universities, they can nonetheless play a critical role by prioritising a diverse international study body on campus and by addressing systemic issues such as cost and affordability that limit the ability of students from the Global South to access a US postsecondary education,” the report concluded.