USA Lifts Travel Restrictions on International Students
Coronavirus travel bans that have barred some students from travelling directly from their home countries to the US has been going on for over a year.
Travellers who have been to China, Iran, Brazil, South Africa, Ireland, the United Kingdom and Europe’s Schengen Area in the past 14 days have been prohibited from entering the US. This has greatly affected international students who have previously left the US and could not return for school without lengthy quarantines in another country.
Finally, a light is seen at the end of the tunnel.
The US State Department has announced that it is lifting travel restrictions for students, academics covered by the visitors program, and journalists from China, Iran, Brazil, South Africa, Schengen Area, United Kingdom, and Ireland, who plan to study in the US later this year.
Students from these countries attending an academic program commencing 1 August or later can enter the US without applying for an individual National Interest Exception (NIE) within 30 days prior to the start of their academic studies, the Department of State said in a statement.
Despite the eased restrictions, hurdles remain for many incoming international students who still have to apply for their student visas to enter the US. It has been reported that only about 40% of US consulates are routinely scheduling visa interviews.
Due to the pandemic, large numbers of US consulates around the world are still in hiatus, resulting in increasing US visa backlogs.
An official at the US Department of State (DoS) said:
The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in profound reductions in the department’s visa processing capacity. Additionally, a range of presidential proclamations restricting travel in response to the pandemic has resulted in further constraints on US visa issuances worldwide.
As the global situation continues to evolve, the department is continuously seeking ways to effectively process visa applications around the world, consistent with both guidance from health authorities and with the US travel restrictions currently in place.
Throughout the pandemic, our US embassies and consulates have prioritised services to US citizens overseas, as well as urgent and mission-critical visa services.
Educational Institutions Hit Hard
With international students facing lengthy US visa delays, American universities have been hit hard as enrolment numbers slump. Although many current students remained in the United States throughout the COVID outbreak or chose to study remotely from their home countries, the number of new international students fell more sharply than any other demographic group during the current academic year. New student visa holders declined by 72% in 2020, according to Homeland Security data.
For colleges that have come to rely on international students both for the diversity they bring to campus and the tuition revenue they contribute to the bottom line, another year of low enrollments would have been damaging.
The lifting of the restrictions means that students will be able to travel directly to the United States from their home countries, rather than first having to go to a third country and quarantine for several weeks. Students from Britain, Ireland, and Europe were already eligible for exemptions to entry bans.
Several countries, including the US, have been making fast progress immunising their populations. Millions of shots have been given to Americans, ranking the US as one of the top countries with one of the highest vaccination rates per 100 people. This has led to lifting restrictions for domestic travel and gradually opening for international travel.
However, not all countries have opened their borders. Top destinations for international students like Australia have not opened their borders for incoming international students.
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