A blog about U.S. immigration matters by Paul Szeto, a former INS attorney and an experienced immigration attorney and counsel. Contact Info: 732-632-9888, http://www.1visa1.com/ (All information is not legal advice and is subject to change without prior notice.)

Friday, May 28, 2010

Size of College Not a Reason for Rejecting Student Visas

Foreign students who apply for U.S. colleges always wonder about whether or not they should apply for the best known American schools and universities. In choosing which U.S. schools to apply, they must weigh different factors and considerations, including their own qualifications, costs of the study, and chances of getting a student visa. Granted that most students would not pass on opportunities to attend top-notched insitutions such as Harvard or Yale if they are accepted, but for most students, rather than applying for a regional four-year college, they may choose to attend a lesser-known college or a two-year community college for financial reasons. Smaller colleges, especially community colleges, typically charge less for tuition and their credits can be transferred to four-year colleges in the future. The money saved can be used to fund graduate studies.

It all makes sense, right? However, some students and their parents may still prefer to apply for better-known colleges out of concern that applying for small colleges may hurt their chances of getting a F-1 visa. Recent information from the State Department helps to clarify this issue for foreign students.

In a U.S. State Department cable communication to the consular posts, the consular officers are reminded that under the Foreign Affairs Manuel, attendance at a lesser‐known college, an English language program, or a community college is not, in itself, is not a reason for refusing a student visa applicant. The key consideration is that, a student must establish that he or she has a realistic plan for his/her education and return to their country. Therfore, a student may choose to first attend an ESL program to improve his English skills, then transfer to a two-year community college, and finally completes his bachelor's degree in a four-year college. Such a plan should not be a reason for rejecting his visa. However, the student must be able to explain his plan of study and the reasons for choosing a particular school or curriculum. This April 2010 cable also urges consular officers to report suspect schools.

The cable also notes that the U.S. educational sector regularly creates new programs to meet the market demands. In the face of the economic downturn, the American schools and colleges have beefed up their overseas recruiting efforts. The efforts appear to be focused on countries where English is the language for instruction or commonly used. According to the State Department, the declining value of the U.S. dollar means that American institutions may be considered a "good buy". This is in addition to the perception that the U.S. offers a high level of institutional support which may be absent in other countries.

The State Department also encourages the consular offices to welcome community college or other university recruiters and work with them. Links to popular websites for promoting U.S. educational institutions should be included in the consular websites. However, the cable also reminds the Consular officers to report any patterns of abuse or suspicious activity from a particular school to the State Department and other organizations for further investigation. In fact, such tips about suspect schools from overseas posts have led to the decertification of several schools in the past year.

Furthermore, according to this cable, wait times for visa appointments should be available to the public and priority should be given to students and exchange visitors for visa appointments. If there is a backlog of appointments, the consular office should implement a system to provide expedited appointments to students and exchange visitors.

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