If they are currently in China, Iran, Brazil, South Africa, the European Schengen region, the United Kingdom, or Ireland, students and some scholars who have been unable to travel to the United States due to Covid constraints will be eligible for a National Interest Exception (NIE). Any F-1 or M-1 visa holder whose academic programme starts on or after August 1, 2021, is subject to the NIE clause. Applicants who are otherwise ineligible for an F-1 or M-1 visa will be automatically considered for a nonimmigrant visa (NIE).
Andrew Chen from WholeRen Education said, “Yes, removing the student 14-day third country travel restriction is welcomed. “Also, I’m glad to see the reason is ‘National Interest Exception’. Finally, international students have been placed as national interests, rather than unwanted spies.” Chen acknowledged the widespread dissatisfaction with visa issuance, adding that the state department has yet to resolve the China visa processing snag. He added, “The F-1 visa in China has been closed for 14 months. Appointments have been continuously cancelled weekly till April 30.” According to data from the Department of State, only 48 F-1 student visas were issued between February 2020 and January 2021, compared to 103,086 F-1 visas issued in the previous 12 months.
Deputy executive director of public policy at NAFSA, Jill Allen Murray voiced his concerns regarding the eligibility criteria for these exemptions, saying, “These include whether J-1 students and J-1 professors and research scholars may qualify for this exception and how the department of state plans to address both the current backlog in visa processing and the influx that is expected to follow this announcement.
He added, “We urge the state department to ensure that this policy change is accompanied by greater flexibility in processing visa requests, including waiving the in-person interview requirement as much as possible, more clarity as to how consulates overseas will handle this increased demand, and increased stakeholder engagement as the department develops those plans.”