By Brandon Brown
International students securing student visas to study in the United States is becoming increasingly difficult.
Since 2016, the immigration rate to the U.S. has fallen 14% overall, and according to the official White House page on immigration, “The president supports ending chain migration, eliminating the Visa Lottery, and moving the country to a merit-based entry system.”
The overall decline in immigration into the country can be seen in student visa numbers as well.
According to the U.S. State Department Visa Office, the issuances of F1 visas, the type of visas necessary for international students, decreased 39% from 2014 to 2018. In 2014, 595,569 F1 visas had been issued, while 362,929 F1 visas were issued in 2018.
While the U.S. government does not give a specific reason for denial into the country, Shuiping Jiang, assistant director of international admissions and recruitment at Youngstown State University, said many of the international students the university looks to recruit are growing skeptical of choosing the U.S. while they study abroad.
Jiang was once an international student who held the status of an F1 visa student.
“Every student will get nervous about applying for a visa,” Jiang said. “If you look at the current visa approval rate data, it does cause students applying for study more concern.”
According to the YSU International Programs Office, the university had a total of 297 international students attending YSU in 2016.
The number continued to increase in the following years, with 2017 seeing 449 international students and 2018 increasing to the university’s all-time high for international student enrollment at 472.
The fall 2019 semester saw a drop in international students, with a total of 459.
Administrators at YSU said international students are choosing to study in other countries or simply being denied a student visa by the U.S. State Department.
Carly Devenburgh, assistant director of International Student Services, said the university can only speculate why there has been a small drop in international student enrollment.
“We’ll never know,” Devenburgh said. “We have definitely seen students get their visas denied, but we have in past years, too. I don’t know if that is the sole reason our numbers are down or it’s just enrollment as a whole at the university being down.”
Both Jiang and Devenburgh said the most common reasons for international students to be denied visa approval are securing funding for study and maintaining nonimmigrant status.
The F1 visa status means students don’t pose a risk of overstaying their visa after they have completed their studies.
When it comes to funding for international student study, YSU offers merit-based scholarships to international students.
Devenburgh said the majority of international students pay for tuition through scholarship.
YSU has awarded over $128,000 in funds to international students, and international students tend to have a higher GPA. Jiang said many international students maintain a 3.0 to 3.5 GPA.
“We’re bringing in quality students, and they’re able to contribute to the university in a number of ways,” Devenburgh said. “They bring a global citizenship to the university.”
While many international students are able to secure a student visa to study at YSU, administrators are noticing a decline in international student interest and numbers.
Devenburgh noted a recent drop in students from Nepal coming to study at YSU.
“Our Nepali numbers have seen a great intake for two years in a row and that really, really dropped off this year. We’ve only seen two new students enrolled this year from Nepal, and I definitely think that was due to visas being denied,” Devenburgh said.
Jeffrey Tyus, assistant professor of communication at YSU, travels to Ghana to recruit for the program.
Ghana is a new market for international study at YSU, and while Ghanaian enrollment has done well at YSU, Tyus said student recruits express apprehension about applying.
“We were getting lots of questions from applicants like, ‘Would we be treated right?’ and expressing a lot of uneasiness about coming to America after the recent presidential election,” he said.
Tyus said international students are starting to look elsewhere when they want to study internationally.
“I do know of students in Ghana who decided they were not coming to the U.S. and started looking for places to study in Canada,” Tyus said. “If we think we are the only option out there, we’re wrong. People will take their tuition dollars elsewhere. People don’t want to deal with the headache that getting a visa can entail.”
Devenburgh said international students bring tuition dollars and economic stimulation to the area, which benefits the local economy and the university.
Tyus is planning a study abroad trip to Ghana in the spring semester and he hopes to get students to mingle culturally and engage international students to come to YSU.
Additionally, Jiang actively recruits students in Asia and South America.
Devenburgh said the office of international student affairs hopes international enrollment grows next year.