California State University, Long Beach said there’s been a sharp increase in the number of international students denied student visas by U.S. officials abroad. University officials tallied about a dozen visa denials for students entering this semester, three times more than last year.
“It’s hard to second guess the decision-making at the consulates overseas,” said Terrence Graham, the university’s associate dean for international programs. But “certainly I think there’s an increase in scrutiny of students’ academic plans, and why they’ve chosen specific places and programs to go to, [and] increased scrutiny of the finances that students are bringing to cover the costs of being in the U.S.”
Graham said more international students this year told his staff that U.S. officials abroad requested additional documents and information from the prospective students. He says the students whose visas were denied are mostly from Iran, India, Turkey and nearby countries. No students from European countries were denied visas, he said.
The turning down of these students is a loss for the university’s budget and its educational environment, Graham said.
“Our international students really bring perspectives into the classroom that enrich the entire intellectual atmosphere,” he said.
President Donald Trump has been very vocal about denying U.S. entry to foreigners who present a danger to the security of this country. The increased scrutiny and visa denials of potential university students appears to be applying that policy approach to a population that some observers believe will do more to help the U.S. than hurt it.
“This is a group of students who have gone through a very stringent process of admissions and acceptance to the university,” said Rahul Choudaha, executive vice president at StudyPortals, a company that helps international students choose U.S. universities to attend.
Cal State Long Beach’s experience is not an exception, he said. Choudaha frequently talks to university officials and said that other campuses are seeing similar increases in visa denials to international students. Most of the information about visa denials is anecdotal.
Officials at California State University Fullerton said that visa denials are the same as last year but that they do not track the number. California State University Fresno does: 16 international students were denied visas to attend this semester, but officials didn’t have last year’s numbers in order to compare.
The American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers helped conduct a related survey and found that visa denials is one of the hot topics among university officials and prospective international students. Melanie Gottlieb, the association's deputy director, said that 46 percent of institutions it surveyed reported that securing and maintaining a visa was the top concern of students from Muslim-majority countries.
“There have been no changes to U.S. laws governing visas,” Noel Clay of the U.S. State Department Press Office said in an email.
He said the majority of visas are approved but when they’re denied it’s usually because the applicant “did not sufficiently demonstrate to the consular officer that you qualify for the nonimmigrant visa category [they] applied for; and/or did not overcome the presumption of immigrant intent, as required by law, including by sufficiently demonstrating that [they] have strong ties to [their] home country that will compel [them] to leave the United States at the end of [their] temporary stay.”
By the time prospective students have an appointment for a visa at a U.S. consulate or embassy, the students have already gone through numerous hoops to demonstrate academic credentials and the financial stability to pay for their tuition and room and board while in the U.S.
Choudaha said that if the visa denials are part of a larger effort by the Trump Administration to deny entry to people from suspect nations, then it’s misguided.
“This is not also someone who is coming for free. These are all fee paying students who are paying their way through. In any sense this is a group which is of the least risk and highest benefit to the United States,” he said.