A new report has shed light on a significant increase in visa denials for international students seeking to study in the United States. The analysis, carried out over an eight-year period between 2015 and 2022, shows that F-1 student visa rejections have become more widespread, affecting countries across Africa, South Asia, the Middle East, and South America. The report by immigrant rights organization Higher Ed Immigration Portal is the latest in a series of recent concerns about the impact of F-1 visa denials on the U.S. higher education system and whether government policies and a negative public narrative towards immigrants are contributing to this new trend.
According to the report, a broad range of countries, except Australia, China, Brazil, South Africa, and some European countries, have grappled with increased visa denials over the last several years. South America experienced a more than 50% increase in F-1 denials, rising from 10% in 2015 to 24% in 2022.
Denial rates for African countries, excluding South Africa, remained the highest during the eight-year period. Between 2018 and 2022, an estimated 92,051 potentially qualified African students were denied F-1 visas. By 2022, the overall denial rate for African students reached 54%, a sharp contrast to denial rates of 36% for Asian students and just 9% for European students.
Overall, the study provides several potential explanations for the steady rise in student visa denials. These include heightened scrutiny by consular officers regarding financial documents and post-graduation plans of applicants, changes in consular staffing and guidance, increased global demand for visas, and more. One noteworthy factor highlighted by immigrant advocates is the dual intent rule, which requires F-1 visa applicants to demonstrate their intention to return home after completing their studies. Critics argue that this rule may lead many prospective international students to pursue more “immigrant-friendly” destinations for their studies.
The report poses the question of whether U.S. schools are missing out on a greater number of qualified international students due to unusually high visa denial rates. The rising trend of F-1 denials for international students could present significant challenges to the U.S. higher education sector and its ability to attract qualified students from around the world.
You can learn more about international student enrollment in the U.S. and how it has changed over time in Boundless’ international student data report.