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Wine bar on 2200 Penn opens doors
By Ella Mitchell, Contributing News Editor • June 14, 2024

International students wrestle with visa process

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More international students are attending American colleges than ever before, but difficulties obtaining and understanding visas can stop students from traveling home during breaks.

More than 2,000 international students studied at GW in the fall of 2008 – the last year for which data is available – and Seth Weinshel, the director of the GW Housing Programs said of the 400 students who applied to stay at the University over the recent winter break, 75 of them were international students.

If students go home during the winter and summer breaks, they must have a valid visa to return for the next semester – a requirement that puts students through what some called a tiresome process.

Junior Amir Ahmad Anwar, who is from Malaysia, said the process of obtaining a visa was “tedious,” involving codes from the University and long processing time.

Anwar, who has never left the U.S. for Thanksgiving or winter breaks, said GW’s International Services Office arranges a “special slip” so he can return home and then come back to the U.S. for the following semester.

Lin Shi, a graduate student earning her master’s in accounting says she did not return back to her home in China this winter break.

“Winter break was too short and China is too far away without a non-stop flight from DC,” she said.

In addition, students interviewed noted it is often hard to obtain a visa after being accepted to American universities.

The Director of GW’s Office of International Services, Greg Leonard, said despite the national growth in international students, some students admitted to GW find it difficult to obtain visas to enter the U.S.

“We have a number of students every semester that are not able to get the visas,” Leonard said. “Typically, what they will want us to do is defer the admission until the next semester.”

Leonard estimates that 10 percent of admitted international students encounter problems obtaining a visa.

When a student requests a visa, their acceptance is often “a matter of diplomatic relations,” Leonard said.

“If you’re coming here from Iran or Iraq you’ve got to go through security clearances that can take a little while,” he said. “It’s very difficult for an Iranian student to get here. It’s not impossible, but it’s very difficult.”

If a U.S. consulate refuses to issue a student visa, the most likely reason is the students’ failure to prove “non-immigrant intent.”

“Everybody who comes here to the United States has to prove to the consulate they’re not coming here to stay,” Leonard said. “They have to prove they have every intention of going back home after they finished whatever it is that they’re proposing to do in the United States.”

Leonard said in some cases these “intentions are very hard to prove.”

Not all students have trouble getting visas. Jingjing Wang, a first-year MBA student from China said her application was processed in less than three weeks.

“The visa officer asked me several questions about my intention in applying for a visa, the school’s name, how I will pay the tuition and living expenses,” Wang said. “After that, I was told I passed. Three days later, I received my passport with approved visa through expedite mailing.”

While the process of getting a visa was easy, Wang said she has been inconvenienced by visa restrictions.

“My visa has one-year valid time. I can stay in U.S. as long as my program goes on. But if I leave U.S. and want to come back again after my visa expires, I need to apply for visa extension,” Wang said. “It’s quite inconvenient, because I have to go for an international project in May next year.”

Wang may need to return to China and renew her visa.

Anwar said that his visa has fewer restrictions. He is able to travel from state-to-state freely and has the same basic rights as a U.S. citizen. He is not, however, allowed to travel to Mexico and Canada as easily.

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