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International Students See Visa Struggles As Colleges Return To In Person Learning


The pandemic caused many universities to go all virtual, which meant that many international students could stay in their home country while attending a U.S. university. But this fall, most schools will be requiring students to be in person, which will mean that international students will have to get a visa to come study here. And with many consulates closed because of the pandemic, that has meant it's been hard to get one, causing headaches for not only the students, but for the schools that host them. Jeet Joshee is the associate vice president of international education and global engagement at California State University at Long Beach. Welcome to the program.

JEET JOSHEE: Thank you so much, Lulu.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The U.S. just exempted students from Brazil, China, Iran and South Africa from COVID restrictions that had been in place because of the high circulation of the virus in those countries. That must've been a relief.

JOSHEE: It's a great relief because most of the students come from China in particular. And having that travel ban, so to speak, lifted is a great relief for many institutions.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Let's talk about your institution. What have you been hearing from your students? I mean, the next hurdle, of course, is trying to get a visa.

JOSHEE: Yes. Many of our students have been in communication with us. And as you probably know, half of the international students in the U.S. come from China and India. India in particular, you know, going through some difficult times in recent weeks, the consulates and embassies are scaling down their hours or completely closing. And it's a great concern. Hopefully, they will be able to open in a few weeks' time. But that is the biggest hurdle right now - not being able to get the visa interview in the consulates and embassies in India.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: It is a super lengthy process at the best of times. Can you talk to me about that process? I mean, what exactly do students need to do in order to be able to come study in the United States?

JOSHEE: Once the students get the I-20 from the schools that they've been admitted to, they make an appointment at the embassy or other consulates around the country. India has four or five different consulates - you know, similarly in China. And then they get an interview date for a future date. In normal times, it was four to six weeks. And now the backlog for visa interview is anticipated to be even longer. So that puts a lot of stress for many of the international students because most of the fall semester is starting in August. It's a very tight window that they have to work with.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I mean, some schools are saying, if the student can't get a visa in time, they will have to defer. What is your position on that?

JOSHEE: We allowed deferment last year for our students from fall to spring or from fall to fall - you know, this coming fall. Those students who would request a deferment from this fall to next spring - we will honor that request and defer their admissions. And also, what we will do is even if most of the instruction will be in person, there will be lots of courses still offered in an online basis. So they would be able to take the online course if they so desired from their home country and keep their student status active.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Have you been talking to the State Department? And what have they been saying? What would you like to see from the government in terms of trying to facilitate this?

JOSHEE: Well, the State Department could do a number of things. You know, one is certainly to resume the normal visa services at the locations - different embassies, different consulates. One of the other things they could do is, instead of having the in-person interview, they could offer online interview for students needing visa. And that hasn't been done yet. So we are in communication with the State Department, as well as the Department of Homeland Security because they have to coordinate between them - between the consular office, as well as, once they arrive in country, from the Homeland Security at the airport and others.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Jeet Joshee is the associate vice president of international education and global engagement at California State University at Long Beach. Thank you very much.

JOSHEE: Thank you.