By Cassy Sottile
Students across the country have recently faced increased difficulty in securing visa applications to study in the United States. This is an issue that also has impacted Washington College in the 2019-2020 academic year.
Two F-1 students, matriculating international students who will earn their degree from WC, were denied visas to the country.
Applications can be denied for logistical reasons, like a lack of proper documentation at interviews, insufficient financial evidence, or being unable to provide proper immunization records. Less logistical reasons depend upon the country of origin and consulate agent conducting the interview, according to Global Education Office (GEO) Assistant Director Alex Levy.
“For some countries, a big part of the F-1 visa interview process is proof of strong ties to the applicant’s home-county and presentation of a strong case for the applicant’s eventual return to their home country,” Levy said. “The consulate interviewer is the judge of what comprises a ‘strong tie’ or ‘strong case.’ So as you can understand, a visa interview can have very varied and subjective results.”
Since the election of President Trump in 2016, the strategy for foreign students and immigration is to limit foreign students and immigrants on the basis that they get into science and engineering, according to Associate Professor of Political Science and International Studies and Director of the Near Eastern Studies minor Dr. Tahir Shad.
“The fear is that these students will graduate from U.S. schools with cutting edge information,” Dr. Shad said. “The Trump administration has enacted an enhanced administration process in which visas for F-1 students can be held up to two years to restrict the number of students coming to the country.”
While the United States has experienced a decline in the amount of foreign students studying at American universities, countries such as Canada, Ireland, England, Australia, and New Zealand have witnessed a spike in foreign student populations, according to Dr. Shad.
This is a macro-level problem affecting all of higher education, according to WC President Kurt Landgraf.
“This is a macro-level problem affecting all of higher education,” Landgraf said. “Anyone living in the United States now should have increasing concern about our policies and how it impacts the country relative to immigration, relative to allowing students into the country.”
As assistant director, Levy helps J-1 students, or exchange students from one of WC’s international university partners who will be on campus for only a semester or a year, maintain their visa status. Levy also helps conduct admission of J-1 and WC students who will be studying outside their home country.
GEO staff are doing everything in their power to ensure international students’ experiences on campus are as unaffected as possible, according to Levy.
“We continue to sponsor J-1 and F-1 visas and provide all the necessary documentation to our students to apply for their visa. We communicate with our applicants to answer all questions and guide them through the visa process,” Levy said.
The GEO team ensures the office is up-to-date on US regulations and laws concerning immigration and participates in educational opportunities for the Student and Exchange Visitor Immigration System (SEVIS) database used to keep students’ immigration status active.
“We continue to reflect and evaluate our orientation process, application process of both J-1 and F-1 students, and events to ensure our students’ experiences on our campus are the best they can possibly be,” Levy said.
The College is helping both F-1 and J-1 students re-apply for visas, although the legal options are fairly limited.
GEO will continue to sponsor the students’ I-20s, an immigration document required in obtaining F-1 visas, and help students defer their enrollment to a future semester. Depending on the applicant’s country of origin, it can take several months to schedule an interview. Deferring enrollment for a semester allows the applicant more time to schedule visa interviews, according to Levy.
“We have to make sure that our international students can come and go without incident. We’ve got to make sure that they have all the paperwork filled out, and that we do everything we possibly can to make this a comfortable place for them to come,” Landgraf said.
The GEO is passionate about helping WC continue to be a safe and welcoming place for all students, according to Levy.
“As an office and personally, we believe that our international students are a vital and incredible part of our campus and our community. I personally encourage our community to educate themselves on the policies surrounding immigration in the United States and make sure their voices are heard: vote, participate, show-up,” Levy said.
“I think that we’re in a very dangerous time now and we have got to do everything we can to protect our students. That’s what it comes down to for WC,” Landgraf said.
If any student wants to know how they can get involved in advocating for international students and facilitating international education on campus, visit the Global Education Office in the Foster House on 409 Washington Ave. or attend the GEO’s events throughout the year.