US rejects majority of student visa applications from Africa

Figures published for first time show how refusals vary by continent, as overall rejection rate rises to 31 per cent

July 26, 2023
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Student visa applications are increasingly being denied by the US, according to research, with African applicants the least likely to be let in.

The higher refusal rates represent a “missed opportunity” for the US, limiting the ability of universities to benefit from a diverse student population, it has been warned.

Data obtained by Shorelight from the US government through a Freedom of Information request revealed that 31 per cent of applications for F-1 student visas were refused in 2022 – a “significant” increase from 23 per cent in 2015.

An accompanying report, produced by the Presidents’ Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration, said a combination of reasons could be behind this rise, including a slowing of student mobility and reduced US consular staff because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Nevertheless, Rajika Bhandari, senior adviser at the Presidents’ Alliance, told Times Higher Education that the publication marks the first definitive figures to substantiate what many in the sector have long suspected.

“We now have clear evidence of a sustained pattern of disparate outcomes for students coming from certain countries in the Global South, including a significantly higher rate of visa refusals for students from African countries,” she said.

The majority (54 per cent) of African student visa applications were rejected in 2022 – compared with just 21 per cent of applications from North America and 9 per cent from Europe.

Refusal rates increased the most for South American applicants, jumping from just 7 per cent in 2015 to 31 per cent last year.

The report said the findings raise the question of whether the statistics reflect national policies and an “overall negative public narrative toward international students and immigrants”.

Refusal rates for African applicants peaked in 2020 under Donald Trump’s administration, and have since fallen, but they were consistently higher than any other world region for each of the eight years analysed.

Ms Bhandari said the low acceptance rates for African students were a “missed opportunity” for the US because excluding potentially qualified and interested students runs counter to the country’s need to attract global talent.

“Turning away such large numbers of African students also limits the ability of US colleges and universities to benefit from a diverse population of international students,” she added.

More than 92,000 potentially qualified African students were denied visas over the eight-year period, the report found.

It also revealed that within the continent, refusal rates varied widely last year – from just 16 per cent in southern Africa to 71 per cent in western Africa.

Despite this, researchers found strong demand from the continent – with the number of African students enrolled in US higher education increasing by more than any other region in recent years.

The report said the findings show that students from the Global South are perhaps “being held to a different standard” than others, and called for the US Congress to modernise the nation’s immigration laws.

Elsewhere, 25 per cent of visa applications from Australia and the Pacific Islands, and 36 per cent from Asia, were refused.

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Reader's comments (1)

The article attempts to discuss a concern re student visa pointing to data on African students s a starting point but the veering off into a rant about descrimination against some "global south". Apparently ignoring a simple geographical fact If you take Africa itself Only 8 nations are fully south of the equator 26 lie in the northern hemisphere 5 nations straddle the equator One could repeat the exercise on different criteria, e.g population, area If the author wishes to grind an axe it behoves the author to state clearly what the axe is they are grinding. Such oversight can obscure what might otherwise be an interesting point. It would benefit the readers of THE if the editor could exercise greater judgement when presented with articles rambling on about "the global south"