Senators calling on State Department to address backlog of international student visas


Maryland Senators Chris Van Hollen and Ben Cardin are calling on Secretary of State Antony Blinken to address a backlog of visas for international students.

WASHINGTON (WDVM) — Maryland Senators Chris Van Hollen and Ben Cardin are calling on Secretary of State Antony Blinken to address a backlog of visas for international students.

With the start of school for kids of all ages quickly approaching, Senators Van Hollen and Cardin alongside 20 other senators are urging the secretary of state and the state department to expedite and prioritize the visa process for international students returning to the United States.

An excerpt from the letter states that data from the National Association of Foreign Student Advisers, or NASFA, Association of International Educators shows that more than one million international students from U.S. colleges and universities contributed $41 billion to the U.S. economy during the 2018-2019 academic year. Furthermore, international students to the United States enrich the educational experience of domestic students that would be more difficult to achieve through online formats.

The letter also went on to highlight practical barriers for the students who participated in online learning while physically outside of the United States. The letter explained students face the disadvantage of time zone differences, claiming students have to appear online for their classes in the middle of the night. Furthermore, not all countries have reliable electricity or internet access and some countries limit access to certain information or websites while the U.S. also bars the sharing of certain information with other countries.

The letter provided these solutions among others.

  • Implement a policy of international student and scholar visa prioritization to address the backlog of visa applicants who deferred or began their studies online in 2020, and for initial students beginning their studies in the fall of 2021; and consider implementing a long-term policy to prioritize international student visa requests.
  • Maximize alternatives to in-person visa interview by providing waivers, virtual interviews, extension of visa eligibility waivers, and all other practicable options.  
  • Expand the National Interest Waiver policy to include university faculty, medical residents, and researchers on Cap-Exempt H-1B and O-1 visas to allow travel to the United States. Provide flexibility for class or program start dates by eliminating the August 1 start date requirement and allow visa issuance to students who, due to visa appointment or issuance delays, started classes online, but when issued a visa will seek entry to the United States to transition to in-person classes.

The letter addressed to the Secretary of State claims the COVID-19 pandemic is a cause in the backlog and the delays. The letter was signed by 22 senators from over 15 states and a copy of the full letter has been provided by the office of Senator Ben Cardin.

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