The US Department of State has announced a hike in the processing fee for non-immigrant visas (NIVs), according to which the fee for visitor visas for business or tourism (B1 / B2s and BCCs), and other non-petition-based non-immigration visas such as student and exchange visitor visas, will increase from $160 to $185, beginning May 30.

As per current the exchange rates, Indian students will have to pay around ₹15,140 for an US visa once these rules are implemented.

Experts say that while the move makes studying there costlier, it is “too early” to assess the immediate impact on student applications or student intake for the coming academic season.

As per the latest data, from the Institute of International Education, in the 2019-2020 academic year, the US hosted 10,75,496 international students.

Enrolment patterns

According to Mayank Maheshwari, COO and Co-Founder, University Living — a global student housing managed marketplace that assists students seeking higher education in finding housing near universities — one definitive and visible trend over the last few years has been the decline in students from China, the largest source country for international students in the US.

However, there has also been an increase in the number of students from India and Vietnam. Additionally, the Covid-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on international student enrolment — with many students deferring their studies or choosing to study remotely.

Some say that the decline came subsequent to the change in F-1 student visa rates around 2019. “The last time the US increased visa fees were in 2019. At that time, the fee for an F-1 student visa increased from $160 to $350. It is difficult to determine the exact impact of the fee increase on international student enrolment in the US, as there are many factors that influence student decisions to study abroad,” Maheshwari told businessline.

He adds that the impact of the 2023 US visa fee hike on international student enrolment is “difficult to predict” as there are many factors at play.

“However, it is possible that the fee increase may make it more difficult for some students to afford to study in the US, which could lead to a decrease in enrolment. It is also possible that the impact of the fee increase will be offset by other factors, such as changes in US immigration policy or the availability of scholarships and other financial aid for international students,” says Maheshwari.

Inflation rate adjusted

According to Rohit Sethi, Director, ESS Global, study abroad consultant, the hike is only $25 per application (in the non-immigrant visa category), “which is not much”. It has been done to match the inflation with the current infrastructure.

“This hike amount will not create much difference in terms of students thinking of going to the US for their studies. (In fact), we have always seen that whenever intake is approaching, the visa processing success ratio becomes fast,” he said. The US’s big intake happens in September.

“As of now, we are struggling with the appointment dates and a lot of other factors for the students. But I believe that they must be working on something to get this resolved,” Sethi says.

The last amendment announced included fixing the appointment date for the interview a year prior, but you cannot travel before the specific start date of a course.

Maheshwari points out that the US is late to increase the visa fees in comparison to other countries — like the UK — who have done it in earlier years. “In the past even getting an appointment date for the interviews was next to impossible and was a very big issue for any person or student travelling to the US,” he said.

Study abroad trends

According to a report by Prodigy Finance — which helps students pursue master’s degrees by providing collateral free education loans — the company witnessed a 72 per cent increase in loan applications in 2022 (over 2021). The average loan size varied between $40,000 - $41,000.

While the Netherlands and Italy are among the now popular study abroad destinations, most preferred countries continue to be anglophone ones like the US, UK, and Canada.

Cities like Hyderabad, Mumbai, Bengaluru, Delhi, and Chennai had the highest number of loan applications in 2022; with Delhi witnessing the highest year-on-year increase of 237 per cent. Hyderabad saw a 193 per cent spike in the number of registrations; followed by Mumbai with 142 per cent jump; and Bengaluru at 82 per cent growth y-o-y.

The Tier 2 and tier 3 cities witnessed an average growth of 53 per cent and 109 per cent respectively in the number of applications. Vijayawada and Lucknow contributed largely to this uptick with 185 per cent and 95 per cent growth respectively. Clearly, studying abroad remains very attractive for graduating students