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United States welcomes more students from Latin America

Almost 70,000 Latin American students in United States during 2003-2004

Posted: December 15, 2004  

Washington -- The United States enthusiastically welcomed almost 70,000 Latin American students during the 2003-2004 academic year, and the U.S. Department of State recently has made significant strides in the timely processing of student visa applications to ensure that visa policy is not a barrier to future students who wish to study in the United States.

In the 2003-2004 academic year, there were a total of 572,509 foreign students studying in the United States. Of this number, 69,658 of the students were from Latin America. With 13,329, Mexico had the most students in the United States, followed by Brazil and Colombia with 7,799 and 7,533 students respectively. There were 4,994 students from Jamaica, the most from any Caribbean nation.

The approximately 70,000 Latin American students who studied in the United States during the 2003-2004 academic year represent a 1 percent increase over the previous year. This number might well grow in the future, as student visa issuance figures for the 2004 fiscal year ending in September indicate that student visa issuances were up for the first time over the previous fiscal year since 2001.

The upswing in student visas follows a three-year decline following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

"The last three years have been a time of unprecedented change in U.S. visa practices," according to Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs Maura Harty. "We know that there were delays in the processing of student visa applications, particularly in the spring and summer of 2002."

Harty explained that the United States had initially made significant changes following the September 11, 2001, attacks, many of which added time to the visa process.

To address these delays, the Department of State has made a significant investment in systems and staffing to increase the transparency, efficiency and predictability of the non-immigrant visa process, she noted.

The efforts, Harty said, have yielded important progress in recent months in the timely processing of student visa applications. Now, the State Department official noted, 97 percent of applicants who apply for visas and who are determined eligible receive them within one or two days. Less than 3 percent of applications are required to undergo additional checks in Washington, which generally take less than 30 days.

"We do not want visa policy to be perceived as a barrier to study in the U.S. by prospective international students," Harty said. "Outdated public perceptions regarding changes to visa processing couldn't be more different from reality.... The Department of State is doing its part to support the resurgence of international students, exchange visitors and scientists applying for and receiving their visas in a timely manner."

In a December 7 interview with Voice of America, Jean Frisbie, an academic exchange specialist at the State Department, encouraged Latin American students interested in studying in the United States to visit the http://www.educationusa.state.gov/ Web site to explore relevant admissions requirements, visa information, and available financial aid. Additional information is available through the Bureau of Consular Affairs web site, http://www.travel.state.gov/

As Latin American students explore educational opportunities in the United States, the State Department official stressed the importance of understanding the cost -- and planning the financing -- of their education.

"If a student wants to come to the United States to study, he or she has to think about how to finance their studies," Frisbie said. "Here, looking for financing is part of the process of applying to a university."

Although education in the United States may be expensive, Frisbie indicated that there are numerous scholarships available to support Latin American students.

"Every university has funds to support interested students," she said. "Universities want to attract a diverse student base, and because of this, Latin American students have a lot to offer."

Apart from universities, the U.S. government also provides grants to support international students. The flagship international education program sponsored by the U.S. government is the Fulbright Program.

The Fulbright Program was established in 1946 to "increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and people of other countries." The program provides grants to international graduate students, scholars, and professionals, and is primarily funded by an annual appropriation by the U.S. Congress.

Currently, there are 739 Latin American Fulbrighters studying in the United States.

One former Fulbrighter from Argentina, Ariel Stolier, offered his insights to the Voice of America on the value of his educational experience in the United States.

"The Fulbright program is a life-changing experience that allows students to not only experience life and study in another country, but to become involved in the culture and society of the country," he said. "Upon the return to our country, it allows us to redefine ourselves and helps us determine the way we want to be."

Scott Miller
Washington File Staff Writer

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