International students from African nations and the Global South are much more likely to have their visas rejected, according to a new report from the Presidents’ Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration and the Shorelight Education.
The data, collected through public records requests, show that African students faced a visa rejection rate of over 50 percent in 2022, up nearly 10 percent from 2015. That’s double the rejection rate for students from Australia and the Pacific islands and more than five times higher than the rate for European students.
Rajika Bhandari, senior adviser at the Presidents’ Alliance, said the research confirms a trend that those involved in international higher education have long suspected.
“For many years there's been a lot of speculation, a lot of anecdotal reports of students from the Global South being denied visas at higher rates compared with students from other world regions,” she said. “What’s striking is how high those visa denial rates are from Africa in particular.”
The report also found that visa denials have increased substantially in the past seven years, with denials for students from South America growing most precipitously during this period, from 10 percent to 24 percent.
The data in the report illustrate a potential challenge to U.S. institutions seeking to diversify their international recruiting efforts as applications from China slowly decline.
Presidents’ Alliance executive director Miriam Feldblum said the report also highlights the need for comprehensive national policy around international education, and a re-examination of the student visa approval process—especially as institutions in China, Canada and other education destinations begin to compete more seriously with the U.S. for international applicants.
“Reducing these barriers is a national imperative,” she said. “The consequences of not fixing this will be big.”