B-1/2 vs. F-1 Visas to the USA

us state dept seal.pngThe adjusted refusal rate for B (tourist/business) visas issued to Vietnamese citizens in 2018 was 26.2%, which means the issuance rate was 73.8%. I wish we had access to the same information for F-1 (student) visas broken down by state and even institution and type of institution.  

Student visa issuance rates are generally quite a bit lower, more so at the US Consulate in HCMC than the US Embassy in Hanoi.  I’ve heard of issuances rates ranging from less than 50% to over 75%.  I work with a number of secondary and four-year institutions that boast an issuance rate of 100% in Viet Nam.  

Other foreign governments do a much better job of sharing this important information. For example, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada recently released information indicating that the refusal rate from 1 January to 31 May of this year for Viet Nam was 55% compared to 15% for China and 36% for India.  In 2018, it was 22% for Viet Nam.  

As I’ve mentioned to a number of US colleagues and journalists, the only way to obtain this information is through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request.  It shouldn’t be this hard.  These are not state secrets after all.  I recently heard from one colleague who filed a FOIA request.  I look forward to seeing the results.  

Shalom (שלום), MAA

US Student Visa Issuances Up in May-July 2019 Over 2018

dos-logo-lightAs US international student recruiters know all too well, these are tough times for most institutions for a variety of social, political, and economic reasons.  Viet Nam, however, remains a bright spot on the recruitment horizon.  As of March 2019, there were 30,684 young Vietnamese studying in the US at all levels, most in higher education.  Viet Nam ranked 5th among sending countries.
Since I like to stay up-to-date with these trends and since we can all use good news in troubled times, I’m happy to report that the number of student visas issued by the US Embassy and Consulate to Vietnamese student has seen an increase of 4.58% during three of the peak months of May, June, and July of this year over the same months in 2018.  Here are the relevant stats:

May 2018:  1110
May 2019:  1223

June 2018:  3147
June 2019:  3148

July 2018:  4942
July 2019:  5250

SourceMonthly Nonimmigrant Visa Issuance Statistics, US Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs
If the 3% increase from 8/18 to 3/19 is any indication, many of these visas may be for secondary (boarding & day) school students.  sevis dhs
Regarding the latter, I emailed the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) to ask when the latest SEVIS by the Numbers data would be released.   Lo and behold, I received a response in one day (thank you, US government civil servants!) informing me that “SEVP is currently in the process of clearing new data for upload on Study in the States’ Mapping SEVIS by the Numbers tool and we anticipate this data to be published in the next month or so.”  
Peak student visa season winds down next month so let’s hope August has followed in the footsteps of the preceding three months.  Stay tuned!
Shalom (שלום), MAA
Postscript:  On a related note, colleagues often ask me about issuance and refusal rates for Viet Nam.  All I can do is provide a general answer and distinguish between different types of institutions and programs.  Since the US government does not release those for some reason (these are not a state secrets, after all), my suggestion is for them to file a request for that information under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).  Anyone interested?

Social Media Question on Visa Application: Yet Another Obstacle on the Path to Study in the USA

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Image courtesy of BBC

Yes, the nightmare proposal related to US-bound international student recruitment has become a cold, stark reality.  Check out this 3 June 2019 update from NAFSA:  Association of International Educators or this 1 June 2019 BBC report about the collection of social media information.

The “social media” question has been added to the DS-160 form, the online application used by individuals to apply for a nonimmigrant visa, including the F-1.  Applicants use a drop-down list to indicate the social media platforms they’ve used during the five years preceding their visa application, and to provide any IDs or handles they used on those platforms.  (Internal censorship, anyone?)  

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Copyright:© Bawnation

What are the criteria, I wonder?  I can guess and my guesses are probably not far off the mark, sadly.  If the applicant is a card-carrying member of a terrorist organization, s/he probably wouldn’t advertise that fact on social media channels.  Memo to the US government powers that be:  Have you heard of the “dark web” and/or encrypted communication?  Yes, some apps are good, so good, in fact, that the National Security Agency aka NSA and other intelligence agencies cannot hack them, or so I’m told by reliable IT sources. 

FB_IMG_1560995888117If a visa applicant wrote somewhere that Donald Trump is an Orange POS, does that disqualify her/him from obtaining a F-1 or other nonimmigrant visa?  What about students who are critical of US domestic and/or foreign policy?  Same end result?  What about those who don’t believe that God wanted Trump to be president?  Ditto?  What if I posted the meme to the left on one or more of my social media accounts?  That’s a rather vast expanse of gray, my friends.   

Here’s another educated guess:  If I didn’t hold a US passport, I probably wouldn’t receive a nonimmigrant visa, if the busy little bureaucratic beavers took a gander at some of the gems I’ve posted on what few social media channels I use, not to mention blog posts, articles, and book chapters that I’ve written, even those that have been mildly censored.  That’s what the USA has come to these days.  The land of the free and the home of the brave, indeed.  

Here’s a question for you, dear reader, that is not academic.  Does the US government really have the technical capability to sort through and filter ALL of this information in multiple languages in a reasonably short period of time?  Based on past performance, I have my doubts.  (Think 9/11, for example, or the collapse of the Soviet Union, for that matter.)  What about many of the Tweets from the Tweeter-in-Chief himself?  If Donald Trump didn’t carry a US passport, would he survive the screening?  

Perhaps more bureaucratic bark than bite?  Time will tell.  At any rate, one more hoop to jump through for millions of nonimmigrant visa applicants, including students, more wasted time in a life that is already fleeting, and one more reason for some international students to consider studying elsewhere.  

Shalom (שלום), MAA

Bonus:  The following was posted in one of the Facebook groups for college counselors of which I’m a member:  

If you work with international students, be prepared for this.  The State Department updated both the DS-160 (non-immigrant visa application) and the DS-260 (immigrant visa application) in the last week to ask all visa applicants to provide their social media names/handles for the last 5 years.  
 
This means that even STUDENTS applying to come to the US to study will be asked to provide information for the following platforms:

Ask.FM
Douban
Facebook
Flickr
Google+
Instagram
LinkedIn
Myspace
Pinterest
QZone(QQ)
REDDIT
SINA WEIBO
TENCENT WEIBO
TUMBLR
TWITTER
TWOO
VINE
VKONTAKTE(VK)
YOUKU
YOUTUBE

That is the actual list from the application. Yes, the government requires Vine info (which doesn’t exist anymore) but not Snapchat (which is where all the kids are), but welcome to the era of “extreme vetting”.
 
I shudder to think what impact this is going to have on students trying to come here to study.

Number of Vietnamese Students in the US Rebounds

For those US colleagues who recruit in Viet Nam, there is some good news in challenging times. According to the latest SEVIS by the Numbers update from March 2019, there are 30,684 Vietnamese students studying in the US at all levels, an increase of 3% over August 2018.

pie logo-newerHere is my latest update about US-bound Vietnamese students, published on 29 May 2019 by The PIE Blog.

Shalom (שלום), MAA

Senior Spotlight: Trang Quỳnh “Tracy” Đào Đỗ Enrolling at Barnard College

Congratulations to Ms. Trang “Tracy” Đào Đỗ for her admission to Barnard College, Columbia University.  Trang is one of many students that my company, Capstone Vietnam, has helped study in the US and other her countries in the past decade.  Below is an announcement that appeared in a recent issue of the Léman Manhattan Preparatory School newsletter.


trang lemanAs President of the Boarding Student Government and the Asian Culture Club, a member of the National Honor Society, a Student Ambassador, and a full IB Diploma Candidate, Tracy has embraced a variety of leadership rolls and activities in her time at Léman. “The most important thing I’ve learned from these rolls is confidence,” she says, “Before I came to Léman, I had difficulty speaking up and expressing myself, but Léman has made me more comfortable in my own skin and I think I’ve grown as a person.”

She is most proud of her achievements as a founding member of the Asian Culture Club. “We wrote a letter asking Mr. Spezzano if we could have chopsticks in the café, and it makes me feel good seeing people use them. It’s a small thing that makes Asian students feel at home. I love teaching and learning from other people about different cultures, which is why I’m grateful to be a part of such an international community,” she says.

She feels that she will continue to grow and learn in the fall when she enrolls at Barnard College, ranked #25 in National Liberal Arts Colleges by US News and World Report, where she plans to major in Biology. “I grew up in Vietnam, where women aren’t taught to be outspoken and opinionated. I think going to an all-women’s school will help me continue to become more successful,” she says.

One of the main reasons her family chose Léman when they were looking for a school in the US was the International Baccalaureate Programme. “I’m happy with the IB because we focus on collaborative projects and creative writing and it emphasizes critical thinking,” which she feels will be helpful in college.

Although she’s looking forward to graduation, she will miss the Léman community. “Léman is very special because it is such a diverse community,” she says, “Everyone is different but also very open-minded. I feel like I’ve learned something from every person I’ve met here.”

Congratulations, Tracy! We know you’ll be successful at Barnard and beyond!

Shalom (שלום), MAA

“International education ‘number one priority’ for US bureau”

Summit_Lockup_Web-01

At the February IIE Summit 2019, Marie Royce, Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA), US State Department, told her audience that international education is the #1 priority for ECA.  Her deputy, Caroline Casagrande, confirmed that “additional resources” have been obtained to promote outbound and inbound study abroad.  What “additional resources,” I wonder? 

In terms of inbound students, I’m afraid the horse has left the barn and that whatever support the US State Department has to offer is too little, too late.  The elephant in the room of the IIE Summit was, of course, Donald Trump and MAGA, who really don’t care about international students, at best.  Naturally, no one at IIE can say that because one of the golden rules in the NGO world is “don’t bite the hand that feeds you.”  Since IIE received 78.2% of its 2017 revenue from “government grants,” that’s a lot of food!  (That percentage was once heading south in the interest of diversification, i.e., don’t put too many of your budgetary eggs in one basket – to the credit of IIE – but I guess some things are not meant to be.)  

In fact, the view of the vocal nativist minority may shift from not caring to wanting to fewer international students to study in the US following in the footsteps of a recent survey in Australia in which 54% of the respondents, admittedly barely a simple majority, thought that international student numbers should not be increased.  

If international education is going to be the “number one priority” for the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA), it is probably in word only.  As usual, US educational institutions are on their own and, in fact, are saddled with the additional burden of having to work against the negatives that have piled up during the Trump administration in- and outside the Beltway.  

Following a point/counterpoint format, here are some additional observations:

“We face growing international competition to attract the world’s globally mobile students. While we are already making great strides to respond to these new challenges, we must step up our game.”  What are the “great strides” ECA is making, pray tell?

“At ECA our goals are clear,” said Royce, underlining that US government is committed to both outbound and inbound exchanges – and explaining that president Donald Trump began penning letters to all US Department of State exchange participants in 2018.  A symbolic act that, in Trump’s case, only means he likes to see his name appear in as many documents as possible.

ECA also “actively supports” America’s competitive education advantage through its Education USA network, which operates in 180 countries, with 435 centres and 550 advisors to promote American colleges and universities abroad, she reminded.  While EducationUSA is useful, it is hardly a competitive advantage.  On a related issue, I hope ECA thinks long and hard about its decision to work with education agents, embraced by the pro-agent crowd but not by EducationUSA in the field.    

However, cost is a “leading reason that students decide not to pursue US study” Royce said, and ECA “wants to raise awareness abroad that there are study options at many price points”.  Cost is one of many factors contributing to the steady decline of international students choosing the USA as an overseas study destination.  Others include gun violence, the widespread perception that the US is not as open and welcoming as it once was and, in the case of countries, Trump himself, who has insulted a long and growing list of peoples and countries.    

The fact that IIE awarded ECA the first centennial medal is yet another example of that organization kissing the hand that feeds, given how much of IIE’s budget still comes from the US State Department.  

Finally, as with the rhetorical open arms embrace of education agents, announced by the same two ECA political appointees last December, we’ll have to wait and see if they’re planning to walk the walk.  If so, what will the impact be, if any?  I won’t hold my breath.  The latest is that EducationUSA may provide training to education agents.  That could be a good thing if it’s done in the right way and agents are probibited from using text or images from such events in an attempt at honor by association.  As mentioned in a recent co-authored article, the devil is in the details.  

Postscript:  Meanwhile, on the other side of the pond, the UK government has published a new International Education Strategy that outlines “plans to increase students numbers and income generated from international education.”  While I’d prefer less emphasis be placed on the revenue benefit of hosting large numbers of international students, I understand that’s the key selling point for most policymakers.  Having said that, the UK and other governments that value international students have something that the US government does not currently have – a STRATEGY.  

Shalom (שלום), MAA