The specter of long delays and uncertainties in obtaining a visa appears to be dissuading many international students from applying for graduate study in the United States.
A survey conducted by the Washington, D.C.-based Council of Graduate Schools and released 2 March found a 32% drop in overseas graduate applications across 113 institutions compared to last year. Among the respondents were 32 of the 50 U.S. research institutions that enroll the largest number of international students.
Nearly 80% of the schools that responded to the survey reported decreases in applications for graduate engineering programs, and 65% reported declines in physical sciences applications. Approximately 50% also reported declines in the international applicant pool for programs in agriculture, biological sciences, business, education, humanities, and social sciences. "The declining rates are clearly connected to a series of actions taken by the U.S. government to make it progressively more difficult for people to enter the country," says Victor Johnson of NAFSA: Association of International Educators, which released its own survey last week showing similar trends.
Johnson's point is underscored by a report from the General Accounting Office (GAO), issued last week, that documented delays in visa processing for science students and scholars. Based on a study of 71 cases, GAO found that it took an average of 67 days to review applications requiring an extensive security check or a review called Visas Mantis, aimed at preventing the transfer of sensitive technologies. Consular staff interviewed by GAO said that they were unclear which cases needed to be subjected to a Visas Mantis check, which often involves additional scrutiny by the FBI and other agencies. "Consular officials seem to be applying Visas Mantis very broadly to protect themselves against the charge of not being vigilant enough," says Johnson, noting a 20-fold overall increase in Mantis reviews during the past 3 years.
The growing effort by universities in Australia, the United Kingdom, and Canada to attract international students may have also contributed to the U.S. decline, says Peter Syverson of the Council of Graduate Schools. But, he adds, "The climate in the U.S. is more challenging for international students than before because of the general need to fill out more forms on campus, to be re-registered every year, and so on."