U.S. denied more than a third of student visa applications in FY2022

The USA refused 35 per cent of student visa applications in the 2022 financial year, according to data recently released by the State Department, a higher rejection rate than in previous years.

Visa data:

The State Department data report shows that 411,131 F-1 student visas were granted in the 2022 financial year, which ran from October 2021 to September 2022, while 220,676 were refused, a denial rate of 34.9 per cent.

The refusal rate compares with 19.8 per cent in FY 2021, 31.2 per cent in FY2020, and 25.4 per cent in FY2019, according to annual State Department reports. The lowest refusal rate of the last 12 years was in FY2013, when only 13.4 per cent were denied.

The Cato Institute, a Washington D.C.-based think tank, said in analysis that while refusals for F-1 student visas were typically the same as other non-immigrant visa categories in the years prior to the pandemic, they were twice as high in both FY2021 and FY2022.

It estimated that the students denied amounted to US$26.4 billion in lost economic benefits for the USA, based on tuition fees and living expenses.

A Spokesperson for the State Department told StudyTravel Magazine that the USA is currently experiencing “unprecedented demand for student visas”.

For FY2023 to date, 18 per cent more F-1 visas have been issued than at the same point in FY2019. Last year more than 581,000 student visas were issued (including M-1 vocational and academic J-1 exchange visas), the most since 2016, while a record 125,000 were issued by Mission India.

Denial reasons:

The State Department has not given a breakdown of reasons for student visa refusals or a geographical breakdown of denials in FY2022, but generally the failure to provide ‘non-immigrant intent’ is one of the most common reasons for denial, alongside incomplete information.

The increase in the refusal rate comes despite moves by the Biden administration in late 2021 to add more flexibility in determining intent for F-1 and M-1 student visa applicants.

The guidance issued in December 2021, stipulated that the context for student visas “inherently differs” from other short-term visas.

It states, “These ties are typically weakly held by student applicants, as the student is often single, unemployed, without property, and is at the stage in life of deciding and developing their plans for the future.”

Although students still need to show the intent to depart the USA at the end of their studies, the guidance states that the likelihood of that changing “is not a sufficient reason to deny a visa”.

One of the reasons suggested by the Cato Institute for the increased rejection rate is a shift in source markets. In the FY2022 year, India overtook China as the top source country for F-1 student visas issued with a record number of 118,221, while China dropped to 63,080 – its lowest since FY2008 (with the exception of the Covid lockdown year of FY2020).

Rachel Banks, Senior Director of Public Policy and Legislative Strategy at NAFSA Association of International Educators , told StudyTravel Magazine that knowing the geographic distribution of denial would help to evaluate the data, but said the refusal rate could be a function of the larger volume of visa processing.

She added that a national strategy for international education, which the association has been lobbying for in recent years, would help by diversifying the range of countries that international students hail from. The International Trade Administration recently announced that international education exports will be added to the forthcoming National Export Strategy for the first time, but stakeholders are calling for the implementation of a full, administration-led strategy.

The State Department Spokesperson highlighted that student visas can now be issued up to one year before the program start date, a change introduced early this year “to better facilitate visa interview processing for certain applicants”. Until the end of this year at least, certain applicants who have previously held a US visa may be eligible for interview waivers.

“International student mobility is central to diplomacy, innovation, and economic prosperity. Last year international students contributed nearly $37.7 billion to the U.S. economy, creating more than 335,000 U.S. jobs,” the State Department Spokesperson said.

“We remain committed to facilitating travel for international students, whose contributions to U.S. campuses and communities are vital for creating people-to-people ties and also benefit the U.S. economy.”

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