Visa Crunch

As students plan to reach US colleges, concerns about chartered flights, and visa purgatory arose

For individuals who don’t usually travel internationally, the pandemic’s ever-changing circumstances make it difficult for them to predict the ticket prices as they have not been reasonable off late.

After the COVID-19 pandemic restricted many of them to their home nations and forced some to attend virtual classrooms in the small hours of the morning, students from all over the world are eager to study at American institutions in the approaching autumn semester.

The drop in available flights to American cities has been too severe in China, which accounts for a third of the nearly 1 million overseas students who migrate to the US in a regular school year, that some students and their parents have resorted to lining up charter planes.

Others, like Indians, are stuck in visa limbo because the State Department cut staff at embassies and consulates as a result of the pandemic. That’s not to mention the ever-changing COVID-19 vaccine guidelines. 

All of this adds up to a tangle of problems for students and a possible nightmare for schools trying to recover from last year’s steep reduction in international enrolment and the resulting financial damage. 

According to Carina Hansen, director of the International Students and Scholars program at Ohio State University, which welcomed over 6,600 international students to its Columbus campus in the autumn of 2019, requests to defer for the term that begins August 24 have already begun to arrive.

International students provide a global perspective to campus and, more importantly, pay full tuition in many cases. Deferrals would be a setback for colleges and institutions, which saw a 16% drop in international student enrolment in the spring semester this year compared to the previous year due to the epidemic.

“There’s always the worry that if they defer for the semester, you’ll lose them for good,” said Don Heller, vice president of operations at the University of San Francisco and a higher education financial expert. If it is easier for them to enter Canada, they may choose to attend a Canadian university rather than stay in their own country.

Northeastern University in Boston held more than 200 virtual support sessions – in a half-dozen languages, across multiple time zones- to answer questions about vaccines, visas, and requests for airline travel support letters, anticipating potential problems with travel and other factors, according to Renata Nyul, a spokeswoman.

With a 96% drop in seats from two years ago, Chinese students are discovering that the aviation industry’s shaky recovery from the pandemic is making planning a trip to the US more difficult. According to Cirium, an aviation statistics company, there are 61 flights, or 20,254 seats, flying from China to the US in July. This is significantly less than the 1,626 flights, or 479,519 seats, that made the trip in July 2019.

Flights from China may also be too expensive: according to TripActions, the average cost of a round-trip ticket from the country to the US was $2,260 in the first two quarters of 2021, a significant increase from the $1,247 average rate seen in the same time in 2019.

For some students, the most challenging part of the trip is acquiring a visa rather than flying. The situation varies greatly across the globe, according to a State Department webpage that provides recommendations on appointment wait times. Estimates for obtaining student and exchange visas range from three calendar days in Beijing to 36 days in Seoul, with emergency appointments only available in Shanghai, London, and Mumbai. According to the State Department, visa applications for certain types of tourists, such as students and exchange visitors, are being prioritized. 

Read more about H1B rules in causing Indian talent to got to Canada, according to US legislators:

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