Despite rising rejection rates, US student visa issuances now exceed pre-COVID levels
The number of F-1 study visas issued by the US last year exceeded the total number of F-1s in 2019
India is driving overall growth along with several other key Asian markets and there is strong growth from Europe, Africa, and Latin America as well
The strong performance comes in spite of rising rejection rates for F-1 applicants
The US denied 35% of all F-1 applications in 2022, and more than half of all applicants from Africa in particular
The US State Department is reporting that the total number of F-1 student visas issued in fiscal year 2022 reached both a record high and surpassed pre-pandemic levels for the first time.
The US issued a total of 411,131 F-1 visas in FY2022. This represents a nearly 15% year-over-year increase from FY2021, and a roughly 13% gain over the FY2019 total.
The US government’s fiscal year runs from 1 October to 30 September, and the State Department is reporting that for year-to-date FY2023, as of 1 August, more than 393,000 F-1 visas have been issued. In other words, for the first ten months of the current fiscal year, the US has nearly exceeded the total F-1 volume from the previous year.
As we see in the following table, just over two-thirds of those visas were issued to students from Asia; that region continues to pace overall growth in foreign enrolment in the US.
Much of the overall increase from Africa was powered by Ghana (3,331 visas issued in FY2022, +94% year-over-year) and Nigeria (7,547 visas; +20%).
India is the major growth story overall and the leading market for Asia as well (115,115 visas issued in FY2022; +43% year-over-year). Other notable gainers among Asian markets include Bangladesh (7,754 visas; +86%); Japan (11,460 visas; +80%); Nepal (6,175 visas; +92%); and Vietnam (12,330 visas; +84%). Those gains from other regional markets helped to offset a notable decline in visas issued to Chinese students, where total volumes fell sharply from 90,310 in 2021 to 61,894 last year (-31%).
Led by France and Germany, European markets mainly saw more modest increases across the board that helped to boost the total number of F-1s issued to students from the region in FY2022. Meanwhile, Brazil (9,806 F-1s issued; +28%) and Colombia (7,038; +58%) were the big drivers of Latin American growth last year.
The additional table below provides a closer look at recent-year patterns for the top ten sending markets for the US, as reported by the Institute of International Education’s (IIE) Open Doors survey. We again see a steady decline in visas issued to Chinese students from FY2019 onward, set against an even greater increase in inbound Indian students. Most other top ten senders are approaching – or have already reached – pre-pandemic F-1 visa levels.
The other 35%
That strong growth into 2023 comes amid reports of rising rejection rates for F-1 applicants. As we reported recently, the US State Department rejected roughly 35% of all F-1 applications in FY2022.
US visa data also reveals significant variations in rejection rates by global region. More than half (54%) of African students were denied F-1 visas in 2022, compared with a 9% rejection rate for European students. Asian students fared better than African students, but the 36% visa rejection rate they have encountered is still much higher than the rejection rate for European students.