You may have heard recently about a Palestinian student who was denied entry to the U.S. when he came to join his freshman class at Harvard. It wasn’t for something he had done. Customs officials scanned his phone and objected to certain social media postings the student’s friends had made. The man’s dreams of a Harvard education were dashed because his friends made objectionable comments.

According to officials from Cottey College in Missouri, the State Department denied student visas to two of six Ethiopian students that had been accepted as freshmen. According to the State Department, the 17- and 18-year-olds lacked sufficient ties to their home country and might not be inclined to return. But how does a 17- or 18-year-old demonstrate sufficient attachment?

According to university officials interviewed by the New York Times, these stories are becoming distressingly common. Otherwise fully qualified students and scholars are being turned away from American colleges and universities due to extended visa delays, enhanced security checks and higher costs. Indeed, the officials said that the use of enhanced security checks for students and scholars has spiked under the current administration, and processing fees have risen.

State Department: Majority of student and exchange visitor visas are approved

According to the Times, a State Department spokesperson said that international students are a priority for the agency and that it is “committed to providing the highest quality service to legitimate travelers.” That said, “national security is our top priority when adjudicating visa applications.”

The spokesperson added that, in fiscal year 2018, 74% of applications for student visas and 92.5% of applications for exchange visitor visas were approved.

That doesn’t tell the whole story. One university official stated that his institution used to see 10 or 12 cases of delayed student or exchange visitor visas every year. Last year, there were over 160 cases. Many of the delays were due to “administrative processing,” which is an enhanced security check.

The State Department admits that the administrative processing time was extended in February from 60 days to 180 days. That increases the lead time necessary to get a visa in time for the school year.

If you are interested in studying in the U.S. or coming here as a cultural exchange visitor, you may need to apply for your visa much earlier than you might expect. You should also work with an immigration lawyer, as they can help you avoid unnecessary delays. Contact the Yew Immigration Law Group for more information.