Thousands of USA-aspirant students are worried about the future as visa-related services have been halted in Bangladesh amid Covid-19 related restrictions. Despite securing scholarships and funding for their degrees, the students remain unsure whether they will be able to pursue higher education in the United States.
The aspiring students submitted a memorandum to the prime minister and the state minister of foreign affairs last Monday in this regard. The memorandum was signed by 350 students.
They appealed to the PM and state minister to take the necessary steps to resume US student visa service maintaining health regulations.
The US embassy, Dhaka website reads, due to the ongoing countrywide lockdown imposed by the government of Bangladesh, the embassy has cancelled all visa appointments from April 5 to May 16, 2021.
Until yesterday, interview slots were open only on December 23, which would be past most students' admission dates. Classes will start in May for summer semester students and August for fall semester students.
"We need adequate interview slots in the months of May, June, and July," read the memorandum.
Yesterday evening, the US embassy opened around 300 visa slots between May 17-25. The appointments were taken up within a few minutes, and the majority of students are still waiting for future appointment dates.
Meanwhile, three student representatives met Foreign Minister A K Abdul Momen at his residence.
Contacted, Shelley Salehin, director (personnel) at Ministry of Foreign Affairs told the Daily Star that they are serious about the memorandum. "The minister held a meeting with the US ambassador yesterday and he said they will consider the visa interview issue," she said.
Multiple students recounted their experience to this correspondent. Kirtaniya Rahul, a graduate of Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (Buet), had to cancel his scholarship for Fall-2020 as he couldn't guarantee he would get a visa last year.
"I then applied to four US universities for this year, and I have secured a fully-funded PhD offer. I quit my job after getting this offer as I thought the visa process will be expedited this year," he said.
Roushney Fatima, a representative who met the foreign minister, said, "I got accepted in a PhD program in the Medical University of South Carolina, with a Doctoral Fellowship and Dean's Scholarship in fall 2020. I was supposed to work on cancer biology with a large group of international researchers but I was the only one who couldn't join the lab due to visa complications."
Anupam Bose, who secured graduate admission to Iowa State University, said, "I have been preparing for graduate studies for over one and a half years now. The standardised tests (IELTS, GRE) and university applications not only require a lot of time and effort, but also cost a hefty amount. Now all of that can become a sunk cost if we don't get the visa on time."
Every year, around 2,000-2,500 people receive student visas for higher studies in the United States, according to the US state department website. Last year, this number was 1,252 as a large portion of students were unable to get visas in due time.