When visas are more expensive than fully funded admissions

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Thousands of Bangladeshi students wait for their visa appointment slots at the US Embassy, ​​with backlog of applications forcing some to postpone sessions or lose financial aid

June 02, 2022, 11:20 a.m.

Last modification: 02 June 2022, 13:09

Illustration: TBS

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Illustration: TBS

Saif (alias) just graduated from Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (Buet) this year.

He was recently accepted to Purdue University in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) for a fully funded PhD program. Her classes are supposed to start in August.

But when he went to apply for the visa, he discovered that the slots were booked until December 2023, while he received his offer letter in February 2022.

“I may have to reschedule my classes for later,” a dejected Saif told The Business Standard.

“When I received my offer letter from Purdue, I waited to apply for a visa because I had also applied to other universities. It was February, and now I would have liked to apply right away. At least there were more slots available then than there are now,” he added.

But Saif could at least find a place, while a large number of students are not even getting it right now.

Shouvik is one of them, who is now a lecturer at the Islamic University of Technology. When he logged in to book a slot for the visa application, he found no available dates.

“It showed that there are currently no appointments available. You can’t even log in too many times or your account will be frozen for 72 hours,” Shouvik said.

Last March, she was offered a fully-funded doctorate in ECE at the University of Maryland. His classes will also begin in August.

If he does not obtain a visa, he risks losing his funding.

“I don’t want to postpone the semester because I risk losing my scholarship if I can’t enroll right away,” he said desperately.

He expressed his frustration: “I have to stay alert all day and check for slot availability.”

Thousands of Bangladeshi students like Saif and Shouvik are waiting for their visa appointment slots at the US Embassy, ​​with the backlog of applications forcing some of them to postpone their sessions.

Many of them have received financial aid from universities in the form of merit scholarships and research and teaching assistantships, but fear they will have to give up these hard-earned rewards as the embassy delays visa appointment.

Another fall 22 student, Subha, has been waiting for a visa slot since March. She was accepted to the University of Georgia in Sociology for a fully funded PhD program.

It holds some hope after very recently, from May 25, a limited number of slots opened up.

But the website kept showing errors in the scheduling dates. “I couldn’t manage a date even for July or August,” she informed us.

After many difficulties, she was able to book a slot for January 2023 but this is not going to help her much, since her classes start from August this year.

She now hopes to reschedule her slots for the June/July openings.

Although the Embassy has been vague in terms of communicating with the students, through responses from the US Embassy in Dhaka on Facebook, Subha learned of the recent opening of the slots.

“The whole process was so stressful and nerve-wracking that I think getting a fully funded offer of admission was easier than getting a US visa appointment,” she said. declared.

According to students who have been in constant contact with the embassy, ​​it is understaffed, while the number of visa applicants is increasing every day.

The United States Embassy in Dhaka issued non-immigrant category visas to approximately 8,838 Bangladeshi students in the 2019-2020 session, a record number.

However, visa services have been interrupted due to the Covid-19 pandemic and the figure has fallen to 8,598 in 2021. The embassy is still struggling to deal with the backlog of unprocessed applications.

But students are not ready to accept this excuse because US missions in other countries routinely issue student visas.

In terms of visa appointments, the waiting time for non-immigrant student visas for Bangladeshis is approximately 587 calendar days. In India, it is only 53 days.

According to a report by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and the Institute of International Education of the US Department of State, in the academic year 2020-2021, Bangladesh ranked 14th on the list of countries that send students to the United States.

In the same academic year, India ranked second in sending 1,67,582 students to the United States.

Bryan Schiller, the embassy’s acting spokesperson, said, “The Covid-19 crisis has disrupted U.S. visa operations around the world. The US Embassy in Dhaka has however been able to open many new appointments and is working to catch up with our visa interviews. “

Recognizing the potential of Bangladeshi students, he added, “We are acutely aware of the wonderful opportunities Bangladeshi students have to study in the United States and we are working hard to welcome student visa applicants. We prioritize student visa interviews.

While visa applications to other popular education destinations for Bangladeshi students – such as Canada, the UK and Australia – are not in such dire straits, the overall pandemic seems to have left a impact.

Regarding Canadian visas, applicants from the prominent Facebook group “Prospective Bangladeshi Students in Canadian Universities” recently signed a petition to speed up visa processing time with IRCC Singapore, from the Bangladesh High Commission to Ottawa and competent authorities.

Although worldwide Canadian visas are granted within 12 weeks, for Bangladeshi students this has stretched to 20-24 weeks. Many students consider alternative destinations for their higher studies because of these hassles.

Students wishing to study at Australian universities have been optimistic about obtaining visas since the Australian government decided to open international borders to international students from December 2021.

Although the borders have been closed for a year and a half, visa applications are now being processed quickly.

Tanjila, a student at Swinburne University of Technology in Australia, shared her experience. “I got my visa in June 2021 but the borders were closed and I was stuck in Dhaka. But as soon as Australia opened its borders I was able to leave within a week.”

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