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US Administration Makes Life Easier for Incoming International Students, Allows HEIs To E-Sign Form I-20

US Administration Makes Life Easier for Incoming International Students, Allows HEIs To E-Sign Form I-20

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Life Easier for Incoming International Students

In a move that will affect international students traveling to the United States for higher education, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has said that it will allow colleges to electronically sign students’ I-20 visa documents, making it a permanent pandemic practice. 

The I-20 form is issued by an institution approved by the U.S. government, which certifies that a student has secured admission to a full-time course and has sufficient financial resources to continue staying in the country.

As per the DHS, all F and M visa category students that study in the country require Form I-20, or the Certificate of Eligibility For Non-Immigrant Student Status. Once they are enrolled in a Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP)-certified school, foreign students receive their Form I-20.

Since many institution officials and international students are unable to travel because of pandemic-induced restrictions, the SEVP allowed the I-20 form to be signed and transmitted electronically.This reduced the burden on students and institutions, and avoided pandemic-related disruptions to the enrollment of non-immigrant students. 

Earlier, incoming international students to the United States were required to have the original Form I-20 with ink signature on hand as they entered the country. The form has to be presented on arrival to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers. This document proves that an international student is legally enrolled in a U.S. higher education institution. It may also be useful when a student applies for the benefits available to F and M students, such as a driver’s license or a social security number.

As per the U.S. Department of State, foreign students contributed more than $39 billion to the country’s economy in 2020 and bagged more than 400,000 jobs. The country has one of the highest international student populations in the world, with more than 1 million students enrolled in U.S. higher education institutions in 2019-20, as per data from Open Doors. 

President Joe Biden and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken have also recently highlighted why it is important for the country to host international students as they play a key role in adding to the country’s economy, the culture, and national security.

Notably, the U.S. administration has been taking several measures to bring back international students to its campuses and to ease any challenges they might face. Recent data by the  National Student Clearinghouse Research Center suggests that international graduate enrollments made a sharp recovery post-pandemic, increasing 13 percent after the drop last year. 

At the undergraduate level, however, foreign student numbers are continuing to decline. However, with a recent surge in visas issued from markets like India, with the United States issuing 62,000 student visas this year so far, the enrollment numbers are expected to rise. 

The number of visas issued to Indian students through July was 37 percent higher than in the same period in 2019. This might give impetus to increase graduate enrollments from India, which has sent a large number of students in this category to the United States earlier. As per an Open Doors report, Indian students accounted for almost a quarter of all graduate students in the country in 2019.

India also has a significant number of takers for STEM programs across the United States, with a majority of them opting for these programs at some of the top U.S. institutions. With India administering 1 billion COVID-19 vaccination doses and the United States approving Covid shield (by AstraZeneca and Serum Institute of India) for travelers, the U.S. Mission in India is also hoping for a resurgence in the applications as it facilitates study for the upcoming semesters.

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