Obtaining a U.S. student visa can take perseverance. Yunjiao Shangguan is an exercise science sophomore from Shenzhen, China, who managed to receive a student visa on her fourth attempt.
“I wanted to come here to play tennis,” she said. “That was my main motivation.”
This current tennis season is the first in which Shangguan is eligible to play for SVSU.
Shangguan says she also wanted to come to America to improve her English. The first two times Shangguan applied, she was rejected because of her level of proficiency with the English language. The third time, State Department officials did not provide her reason.
Shangguan says that she was discouraged after her third rejection, but her father persuaded her to try again. He visited the U.S. on business and knew about the quality of an American education.
“They let you express your ideas,” she said, “and he really wanted me to come here to study.”
Visa applicants currently pay a $200 fee for the State Department interview, up from the previous amount of $150. There used to be a maximum of three attempts, but now visa applicants are allowed unlimited attempts.
On her fourth attempt, she was approved. “I was excited,” Shangguan said. Within two weeks of being approved for her student visa, she arrived at SVSU to begin her studies.
Sam Heikinen, director of international admissions, first met Shangguan about three years ago during an education expo in Chendu, China. Heikinen recruits internationally at educational exhibitions and through school visits, television, radio and print media.
“Yunjiao Shangguan got her visa on the fourth try. I was running around in circles. I was so happy she was coming off the airplane,” Heikinen said.
The number of students receiving an American visa is different for each country.
“We have a very good visa yield rate with China right now. We’ve done exceptionally well,” he said.
Higher education is America’s fifth largest export commodity. Heikinen says China is the No. 1 country sending students to SVSU for study.
“We get a lot of great, quality students from there,” he said.
Nationally, India is the first, China is No. 2 and South Korea is No. 3.
“A lot of people have a misconception as to how international students get a visa to come here. It has nothing to do with their home country. These students don’t get a visa from their government – they get a visa from our government.”
International students receive an I-20 application document from the International Programs office to obtain an F-1 non-immigrant student visa.
Applicants in China meet with U.S. State Department visa officers in a three- to five-minute interview. Applicants must prove they have no intent other than to study in the U.S.
Heikinen says, “The State Department people always state that they always want to give every deserving student the visa.”
Visa applicants must prove that they have non-liquid assets in the amount they can pay for one to four years of education here. They must also explain why they wish to come to the U.S. to study and why they intend to return to their country of origin after graduation.
“This is probably what they are most concerned about,” Shangguan said. “If you do not have a strong reason, they will definitely reject you.”
Heikinen says that more time, effort and resources should be dedicated to streamlining the overwhelming red tape. “We have to know who is coming through our borders, but we are America.”
Most of the time, students’ visas expire before they’ve graduated. Students then must return to their home country to renew the student visa before returning to complete their degrees.
“International students give our American students a great deal of understanding and a bridge to our friends around the world,” Heikinen said. “When they do go home, they take back with them that love of America.”