The State Department has placed several initiatives concerning student visa application in the latter part of 2021.

The United States emerged as the top study destination for international students in 2021, followed by Australia and the UK, according to research conducted by CEOWORLD magazine, a leading business magazine with 12.4+ million page views written or CEOs. CFOs, business leaders, and senior executives alike. Aside from the expected ranking criteria such as education system; access to higher-quality teaching; and industrial linkage, student and post-study work visa were also critical considerations.

Similar to how prospective students value American education and the privileges that come with it, the State also values the contributions of the international education industry not only in the economy but, most importantly, in strengthening connections between current and future leaders critical to today’s unprecedented challenges. Understanding the disruption caused by the pandemic, the country has been updating and making adjudications on the student visa application to cover the changing international education landscape.

Following the update on National Interest Exceptions (NIE) in May 2021 allowing students with valid F-1 or M-1 visas traveling to begin or continue an academic program without the need to contact an embassy or consulate, the State Government has released several updates focused on streamlining visa process applications.

Visa Waiver Program

In December 2021, the Department of State announced the expansion of the interview waivers for eligible UC Visa applicants through December 31, 2022. The release stated that consular officers are now temporarily authorized to waive in-person interviews for several non-immigrant visa categories including Students (F and M visas), and Student Exchange Visitors (Academic J visas). In addition, the interview waiver has been extended indefinitely for those applicants renewing a visa in the same visa class within 48 months before the visa’s expiration.

The visa interview waiver was implemented in September 2021 for eligible individuals applying for F, M, and academic J-visas, including students, professors, research scholars, short-term scholars, or specialists. 39 countries participated in the Visa Waiver Program, allowing their citizens or nationals to be eligible for the program when applying for a US Visa for the first time.

Foreign Affairs Manual Update

Also in December last year, a significant update on the Foreign Affairs Manual (under 9 FAM 402.5-5(E)(1) was released establishing context on the natural limitations of a student visa applicant as well as the differentiation of their purpose and length of stay versus other nonimmigrant visitors.

Jill Allen Murray’s, NAFSA’s (National Association for Foreign Student Affairs) Deputy Executive Director of Public Policy, comment on the FAM update was shared by Forbes:

“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. 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 penalized 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.”