Growing Indian student population at KSU broken by visa denials

Prashanthi Jeevan, a digital sciences graduate student, performs the a southern Indian dance at Kent State’s first-ever India Fest Thursday, Sept. 21, 2017

Mckenna Corson

This Fall 2016 semester was supposed to hit an all-time high of Indian students studying abroad at American universities. Kent State, among universities around the country, had been experiencing a surprising growth of Indian students starting around 2013, according to the Office of Global Education.

However, a much smaller amount of Indian students made the trip to Kent State for this fall semester, and the Department of Computer Science and the School of Digital Sciences reported that only half of the expected Indian students were successfully able to attend.

According to the Office of Global Education, large numbers of Indian students were suddenly denied visas from U.S. embassies and consulates. This was the largest amount of denials within the past years, a first time occurrence at Kent State.

Desnee Stevens, director of International Student and Scholar Services, explained the process of obtaining a visa.

After taking the SAT or GMAT, an English test and getting accepted by an American university, international students must make an appointment with a U.S. consulate office or embassy for an interview, according to Stevens. The interview is the make-or-break part of a student’s journey for a visa.

“The interview is very quick, and it feels like you’re just going to the BMV to get your driver’s license,” Stevens said. “You basically have only a few minutes to sell yourself.”

Stevens explained that the interview is conducted at a window with zero privacy as people are lined up behind one another. The interviewer asks international students a series of brief questions, such as what university the student plans to attend and how much money the student has.

“The reason that a visa is denied in any country is usually due to two main reasons,” Stevens said. “One is that the prospective student is not able to effectively convince the consular officer that they intend to return to their country.

“The second reason is finances. In some cases, they don’t believe the student has enough money to be able to attend, resulting in a denial.”

Stevens blamed the denial rates on an increased mix of both reasons. The reasoning behind the increased denials is unknown according to Stevens.

Kunwar Mehra, a finance and economics grad student, saw firsthand just how strenuous the visa process was in India.

“The process isn’t that hard, it’s just the documents that are required to go for the actual visa interview that can be difficult,” Mehra said. “Then you go into the interview, and if you get one question wrong, you’re denied a visa. Two minutes of an interview, and then they decide your fate.”

Mehra described the questions the consular officers ask.

“They ask us why this is the university we chose,” he said. “They try to make sure that we come back, so they ask us about our finances and what our father does. They tell us right after the interview if we’re approved and that we can get our visa and passport tomorrow. You can try again, but once you have a rejection, it decreases your chances next time as well.”

Sourav Shrivastava, a digital sciences graduate student, also saw how difficult the interviews were in India.

“I think they should be a little more lenient for students because the interviews are so stressful,” Shrivastava said. “They want to know how strong your roots are and that you’re willing to come back to your home country.”

The widespread denials in India were very apparent, according to Mehra and Shrivastava.

“Because we stand in rows and line up like it’s a window at a bank, I could see the person before me getting interviewed, and I was like, ‘oh damn, he just got rejected, and he got rejected and the three people before him got rejected. I’m doomed, ‘” Mehra said.

American universities expecting many Indian students also had to deal with the loss.

Within Kent State, the Department of Computer Science and the School of Digital Sciences experienced the greatest losses. Both lost about half of the Indian students expected to attend the Fall 2016 semester.

Cheng Chang Lu, assistant chair of the Department of Computer Science, explained that computer science had made room for the expected record-breaking amount of students.

“We saw the number growing around 2013, and then we starting adding sections,” Lu said. “At a time, some of our class sizes got up to 60 to 70 students, so we started adding sections to accommodate more students and make the classes more manageable.

According to Institutional Research, computer science’s enrollment boomed from 77 students in 2013 to 169 students in 2015. The increasing pattern was ruined when only 142 Indian students were enrolled this semester.

Jeff Fruit, interim director of the School of Digital Sciences, described how the loss affected the school.

“With the sudden drop, it allowed us to lower some section sizes and provide more attention,” Fruit said. “We tried to take advantage of this situation.”

According to Institutional Research, the School of Digital Sciences’ Indian enrollment went from four in 2012 to 498 in 2015. Following the boom of enrollment, it appeared that 200 students would join the 2016 Fall semester, according to Fruit. However, only around 100 new students were added.

“We expect the trend to continue to next semester, but beyond that, it’s hard to tell at this point. These are fairly fluid situations that could change.” Fruit said.

“If our numbers don’t get back to normal, we will start seeing the effect in spring.” Lu said.

The end to the high denial rates are unknown, and there is little Kent State and other universities can do to solve the problem according to Stevens.

“The Department of State makes the decision,” Stevens said. “The only thing that a university can do is issue the immigration document that allows students to apply for the visa and help them prepare for the interview.

“Something like this can occur anytime. It’s not exclusive to what happened in India, and it can happen anywhere.”

Mckenna Corson is the international and grad affairs reporter, contact her at [email protected].