The rate of international F-1 student visa denials has increased worldwide in the past eight years, save a few European countries, Brazil, Australia and China. But no continent comes close to the rate of visa denials than Africa.
A report published by the Higher Ed Immigration Portal and conducted by Shorelight and the Presidents’ Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration found that U.S. immigration authorities denied 50% of African student applications between 2015 and 2022. Last year alone, the rate was 54%, and in the past five years, more than 90,000 students applying to the U.S. were denied visas.
Comparatively, only 9% of European students were refused visas. Additional research from MPOWER Financing published in May concludes that students from India, China and Brazil admitted to top U.S. universities have visa approval rates ranging from 70-90%.
While more than half of Africa’s students are being denied F-1 visas, the refusal rate is disproportionately spread across the continent. Specifically, South Africa’s denial rate was 16% in 2022, three times smaller than Eastern (48%) and Northern Africa (49%) and four times smaller than Central (61%) and Western Africa (71%). If South Africa is excluded from the analysis, Africa’s refusal rate jumps to 57%.
Why are African students being denied so disproportionately?
MPOWER Financing found several key factors hindering their performance in the visa interview process. These factors are based on qualitative evidence provided by students.
- Trouble securing visa interview slots in the first place
- Unavailability of adequate interview slots at American consulates in Lagos, Accra or Nairobi
- Higher standards by U.S. immigration authorities than their peers from other world regions
Despite setbacks, Africa still boasts significant U.S. enrollment gains
Despite the high denial rate, African students have been the fastest-growing cohort over the past eight years compared to other continents (22%). On the other hand, South American students’ enrollment is shrinking the most at 15%. Visa denials have more than doubled here, expanding from 10% to 24% since 2015.
“The growth in the world’s labor market is in Africa. As other parts of the world begin to age, Africa will grow its population and today’s children will be the talent tomorrow’s global companies will be recruiting,” said Rebecca Winthrop, director of the Center for University Education at Brookings, before the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee.
Shorelight and the Presidents’ Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration crunched international enrollment data from U.S. government FOIA requests on F-1 visa refusals, the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Consular Services, the Institute of International Education’s Open Doors project, the World Bank and the United Nations.