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,
"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
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 "Outdated public perceptions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."
Washington File Staff Writer