The F-1 as the (Immigration) Path of Least Resistance

us visaI’ve heard on the grapevine from reliable sources that increasing numbers of Vietnamese students from certain areas in Vietnam are not showing up for classes at certain US higher education institutions.  They apply (or someone applies for them), receive their I-20s, have a visa interview and A) are denied; or B) receive a visa, travel to the US and disappear into a (presumably) Vietnamese-American community in Orange Country, San Jose, or wherever.  Regarding option B, I wonder if this isn’t the tip of an emigration iceberg with far-reaching implications for recruitment and US visa policy.

Here’s how it works:  they hear “on the street”, i.e., from a friend, relative or an education agent, that it’s easy to get a student visa to institution X.  While some students skip town, which they’re permitted to do (i.e., the original admitting institution is obliged to transfer their SEVIS record), and transfer to Substandard Language School Z in LA or NYC, for example, others simply fly to the US, make like Houdini and disappear.  From the offending party’s point of view, this sure beats the hell out of filing an immigration petition and waiting for years for a “yes” or “no” decision from on high.

Methinks the powers that be need to devise an effective way to ensure that people who receive a student visa actually end up studying at an accredited educational institution.  Immigration shouldn’t be this easy.  The first step would be for the “Department of Homeland Security” to compare international student statistics with those who begin their studies at the admitting institution or immediately transfer to another educational institution.  The “no shows” comprise the balance.

Suggestions?  Next steps?  Is anyone listening?


Make it in Germany

A Multilingual “Welcome to Germany” Portal for International Qualified Professionals

Germany is tied with Japan as the “oldest” country in the world with a median age of 46.1.  In a phrase “the Germans are dying out” (die Deutschen sterben aus).  It’s estimated that the population will shrink to 66 million by 2060 from a current population of about 83 million.  Since Germans are not having enough babies for various reasons that transcend one blog post , they have no choice but to compensate by encouraging the immigration of educated and qualified people from around the world. 

This includes a campaign called Make it in Germany, which has been translated into a number of languages, including Vietnamese, and customized.  (There’s even a sign language video.)  Other target countries include India, Indonesia, Spain and other Spanish-speaking countries, Russia, Italy, Portugal and Portuguese-speaking countries (Brazil?) and Serbia.  The website has various entry points for people interesting in working, studying, traveling, research or starting a business.  It also features a section with “I made it” success stories, in addition to detailed information about in-demand professions, living in Germany, learning the language, etc.  .

make it in germanyHere is the introduction and overview of this website, which characterizes it as a “‘Welcome to Germany’ portal for international qualified professionals”.

“Make it in Germany” is the multilingual “Welcome to Germany” portal for international qualified professionals. It is run by the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy. “Make it in Germany” informs qualified professionals who are interested in immigrating about their career prospects and shows them how to organise their move to Germany – and what makes it worthwhile to live and work here. The portal posts current vacancies in occupations where there is a labour shortage and provides information about the sectors in search of skilled workers. There are also presentations by international qualified professionals who have already forged a successful career for themselves here, while employers in Germany can get tips on how to go about recruiting skilled professionals from abroad.

In actual fact, “Make it in Germany” is more than just an information portal – it is the expression of a whole “culture of welcome”. It portrays Germany as a modern, diverse society and helps convey the friendly, cosmopolitan nature of the country.

The Vietnamese version, which is being actively promoted on various social media channels in Vietnam, features Tung, a business software development engineer from Hanoi, who lives and works in Giessen, Germany.  (I like the pretzel and the beer – nice touch.  Makes me hungry & thirsty.  :-))


Make it in Germany is a bold and exciting initiative that recognizes the reality that the country’s population is graying and that future success will be the result of attracting international qualified professionals.  It rolls out the virtual red carpet to those individuals who might have an interest in studying and/or working and living in Germany.

While the median age of the US is lower (36.8 years), its economy desperately needs a certain percentage of international students, for example, to stay, work and, ultimately, emigrate.  (One reason is not enough native-born US Americans are studying key subjects, e.g., STEM fields.)  While emigration is possible, it is not yet policy, hence the third student visa criterion about returning to one’s home country, which often ends up being a hoop that applicants have to jump through in order to get the visa.

clock is tickingKudos to Germany for launching the Make it in Germany initiative.  The US should follow in its footsteps in order to align its immigration policy with the fast-changing realities of the US and global labor market.  Is anyone in DC watching, listening and learning?  Tick-tock, tick-tock.


Record # of Visas Issued to US-Bound VN Students in FY14

us visasIn fiscal year (FY) 2014, US Mission Vietnam, i.e., the Embassy in Hanoi and the Consulate General in Ho Chi Minh City, issued a record 14,822 student (F-1) visas to Vietnamese students, according to the US State Department’s annual report (204 KB PDF download). This is the largest ever one-year numerical increase for Vietnam while the percentage increase is the third highest ever (36.4%) after FY07-08 (49.8%) and FY05-06 (117.6%).

student visa graph

student visa stats

number 7Based on current enrollment trends, as reported in the February 2015 SEVIS by the Numbers update in which Vietnam ranks 7th among all places of origin with 25,982 students at all levels, surpassing Taiwan (23,503) and on the verge of displacing Japan (26,187), student visa issuances are on track to set yet another record in FY15.


Top Emerging Markets for International Student Recruitment

Below are some excerpts from this World Education Services (WES) follow-up study to a 2012 research report that identifies key emerging markets for international student recruitment through 2018 and seeks to inform higher education institutions’ strategic planning by giving them a deeper understanding of future international student recruitment markets.

This report addresses two main questions:

  1. Beyond the traditional markets (China, India, and South Korea), what are likely to be the top four emerging markets for recruiting international students in the next three years, and what exactly makes these promising recruitment markets?
  2. What are the most effective strategies and practices for recruiting international students from these emerging markets?


In order of importance, survey respondents to the WES survey identified Brazil, Vietnam, Indonesia, and Nigeria as the top four emerging markets to watch over the next three years. In the past five years, these countries have shown substantial increases in the number of students studying in the U.S., alongside stable economic growth.

As identified in WES’ previous Emerging Markets report, Vietnam is and remains an important recruitment market, with outbound mobility growing significantly over the past 13 years. In 2013/14, there were 16,579 Vietnamese students studying in the U.S., making Vietnam the eighth-ranked nation among all sending countries. With steady growth in both the number of students arriving from Vietnam and also in the size of the country’s economy, Vietnam looks set to continue as a strong growth market. Vietnam’s economic growth will also enable parents from its growing middle class to send their children to study in the U.S. at a younger age. An increasing pool of Vietnamese secondary-school graduates in the U.S. also represents an emerging and significant recruitment channel for HEIs.


Note:  The US is once again the world’s leading host of Vietnamese students with nearly 26,000, as of February 2015, mostly at the postsecondary level.  Australia is second with 17,993 Vietnamese students at all levels.  Vietnam ranks 7th among all sending countries using the same type of data from SEVIS (DHS), having surpassed Taiwan and is about to overtake Japan.


The USA & Australia Trade Places – Again!

usa flagAs of February 2015, the United States is once again the world’s leading host of Vietnamese students.  Using the SEVIS by the Numbers quarterly update, which includes both secondary and postsecondary data, there are about 26,000 Vietnamese studying in the US, rounded up by 18 students.  Since the Australian figures below encompass all sectors of that country’s educational system, the two data sets are identical in terms of what they measure.

australian flagHere is the February 2015 update from “Down Under,” provided by the Australian Government’s Department of Education and Training.  At that time, there were 359,971 enrollments by full-fee paying international students in Australia on a student visa. This represents an 11.6% increase on YTD February 2014.  Vietnamese students comprise 5% of all nationalities.

Top 5 Nationalities


US International Student “Market Share” Steadily Eroding

According to the 2014 Open Doors report, released by the Institute of International Education, there are 886,052 international students in the US, which makes it the world’s leading host.  (There are now a total of 1.13 million F & M students studying in the US, according to the 2/15 SEVIS quarterly update.  That includes all levels of education.)  That’s not surprising given the high level of interest in StudyUSA over the years and the sheer size of the US higher education system.

market shareA more useful way of looking at international enrollment trends, however, is to focus on market share.  That picture is not so rosy.  Of the more than 4.5 million students enrolled outside of their home countries in 2012, 75% were studying in developed countries and over half came from Asia, with China (22%), India and S. Korea taking the top three places.  As a 2014 global migration report from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) revealed, about 25% of all international students were in the US.  Ten years later, that figure dropped to 16% while all other English-speaking countries, including the UK (12.6%) and Spain increased their share of international students.

According to the OECD, the number of students studying overseas will nearly double by 2025 to 8 million.  Time will tell if and when the US is able to take advantage of this trend.


Here’s a partial list – in no particular order.  Feel free, dear reader, to add to it.

  1. Lack of a comprehensive official US international education policy
  2. State and Commerce are often at odds with each other even though they represent the same government
  3. A sense of resting on one’s laurels – the US built it and they came back in the day but it has been losing market share since 2000
  4. Counterproductive immigration policies, e g., international students can only work on campus, are limited in their post-graduate employment opportunities, both temporary (OPT) and permanent (H1B) and, while possible, the transition from student to green card holder to citizen is not an easy one nor it is officially sanctioned
  5. Regarding the previous points, other countries such as Australia and Canada are much more welcoming, hospitable and realistic vis-à-vis the need (e.g., the graying of their populations) for a certain percentage of international students in certain fields to stay, work and emigrate
  6. Post-9/11 dip

Another factor is cost.  A global report released by HSBC last year based on a survey of more than 4,500 parents in 15 countries, found that Australia is the most expensive place in the world to study, followed by Singapore and the US.

Source: HSBC

Interestingly, the US is currently the world’s leading of Vietnamese students, which says something about preferences and ability to pay.  The US recently “overtook” Australia in this friendly competition for Vietnamese and other international students.  Using Ministry of Education and Training (MoET) statistics for 2013, the latest year for which they’re available, there were 125,000 young Vietnamese studying overseas.  The percentage distribution was as follows:

1)  Australia (26,015):  20.8%
2)  United States (19,591):  15.7%
3) Japan (13,328):  10.7%
4) China (13,000): 10.4%
5)  Singapore (10,000):  8%

As you can see, the top five countries comprise nearly two-thirds of total overseas enrollment for Vietnamese students. The following countries rounded out the top ten:

6)  France (6,700)
7)  Taiwan (6,000)
8)  UK (5,118)
9)  Russia (5,000)
10)  Germany (4,600)

The bottom line, literally and figuratively, is that individual US institutions of higher education, sometimes working cooperatively (e.g., from the same region, a community college and a state university) have to map out their own strategies for different target markets, keeping in mind that one size doesn’t fit all.


2014 Update on B Visa Adjusted Refusal Rate in Vietnam (Psst! It’s Now Under 15%!)

visasWhat is an adjusted refusal rate (ARR)?  So that your head doesn’t end up spinning, here’s the short version. An applicant is counted only once and is assigned the status in which s/he ended the year, issued or refused, regardless if previous applications were refused.  Simple, right?

The formula is as follows:  ARR equals: [refusals minus overcomes] divided by [issuances plus refusals minus overcomes).


Determination of B Visa Adjusted Refusal Rate for Country X:
Country X, worldwide, had 305,024 B visa applicants end the fiscal year in the “issuance” status; 20,548 end in “refused” status; and 88 end in “overcome” status.

Refusals minus Overcomes = 20,548 -88 = 20,460
Issuances plus Refusals minus Overcomes = 305,024 + 20,548 -88 = 325,484
20,460 divided by 325,484 = 6.3 percent (Adjusted Refusal Rate)

OK, maybe your head is spinning now but you get the idea.

As I mentioned in this February 2014 post, there have been significant decreases in the last couple of years in the B (business/tourist) visa refusal rate in Vietnam.  That trend continued in 2014 in which the ARR was an impressive 14.3% (!).  Worded differently, nearly 86% of all business and tourist visa applications were approved!  Below are the stats from 2006-2013.

2006-2013 B Visa Refusal Rates for Vietnam
Source: U.S. State Department