OSU international students face delays in visa acceptance due to residual COVID-19 effects

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H. Beck

Time passes quickly while paperwork piles up in the Visa offices.

Skand S., News Contributor

Administrative Processing – a seemingly innocuous bureaucratic term for many, can be a nightmare for international students applying for a U.S. visa. 

Oregon State University students Anton Egorov and K M Ashraful Islam have been facing issues getting their visas to pursue graduate studies due to continued backlog in processing applications from the pandemic.

When a student applies for a U.S. visa, they can either get a decision when they interview with the consular officer, or their application is sent to administrative processing. 

“(During administrative processing) additional information from sources other than the applicant may help establish an applicant’s eligibility for a visa,” according to the U.S. Department of State website

The Department of State recommends the applicants wait for 180 days post-interview to inquire about the status of their application. Most students receive a reply within 180 days. 

Kamrul Hasan Chowdury, a Ph.D. student in the Department of Mathematics, who is from Bangladesh, was put on administrative processing in July 2021 and received his visa within 20 days.

However, not all students get a decision that early.

Egorov, who is from Russia, was supposed to join OSU in the Fall of 2021 to pursue his Ph.D. in Computer Science has been waiting for more than 460 days.

According to Grace Atebe, Executive Director of the Office of International Services, COVID-19 has had a detrimental impact on visa processing because of travel restrictions to the U.S., local restrictions near the U.S. consular offices which limited the visa interview processes, and a reduction in staffing in some consular offices.

The U.S. Department of State also acknowledges that the pandemic has dramatically affected their ability to process visa applications and has introduced policies to mitigate this problem to some extent. 

“(The Department of State and Department of Homeland Security) waived in-person interviews for several key visa categories, including for many students and some temporary workers,” Atebe said. “Visa applicants renewing nonimmigrant visa in the same classification within 48 months of their prior visa’s expiration are now eligible to apply without an in-person interview in their country of nationality or residence.”

Islam who is also from Bangladesh also deferred his admit to the winter 2023 term because of administrative processing. His wife, who applied on a dependent visa has also been put on administrative processing.

He applied for his visa interview in March 2022, and was able to get a slot for July 2022 on an emergency basis but has not heard from the embassy about his visa status as of Nov. 16, 2022. 

“It’s like a black hole, you don’t know when your visa administrative processing will be completed,” Islam said.

According to Islam there are over 350 people that he knows of from a Telegram and Facebook group who are in the same boat. 

Both Egorov and Islam contacted Oregon senators Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden about this issue. The office of both senators made an inquiry with the Department of State on behalf of Egorov and Islam. However, both said that they received a generic email from the embassy and were directed to a webpage to check the status of their application – which they already were aware of.

On contacting Senator Merkley’s office, Maggie Sunstrum, the Deputy Communications director said in an email, “Lately, there have been delays and long-wait times at embassies due to the fact that agency staffing has not yet returned to pre-pandemic levels, as well as ongoing pandemic restrictions in some countries.”

Another route that few students take is to contact an immigration attorney if the embassy does not respond with a date for a ‘reasonable’ amount of time. According to Islam, the attorney files a writ of mandamus in which the court orders the embassy to give an update within 60 days. The update can either be a decision on the visa or another extension.

However, this is not feasible for everyone since it is quite expensive to hire an attorney for an international student. When Islam inquired about an attorney he found that it would cost him at least $3,500.

Islam and Egorov also mentioned how their respective departments at OSU and advisors have been understanding of the situation and very responsive. 

“I would say they have been very empathetic,” Islam added. 

Like several graduate students, Islam was worried about his funding being cut off – however, his advisor affirmed that he need not worry about it. 

“It was really consoling for me,” Islam said.

The situation seems to be improving as both Islam and Egorov have seen people in their home countries getting visa approvals in the past month.

“As COVID-19 restrictions have continued to be lifted globally, the resumption of visa processing has continued to improve resulting in overall decreased delay and wait times,”Atebe said. 

Islam believes that key to getting through this is being persistent. 

“When you are in an administrative processing stage, you should really to keep communicating with you department and keep communicating with all of your professors,” said Islam.