By Kristen East, The Daily Iowan 
University of Iowa officials are split on whether recent changes easing restrictions on obtaining U.S. visas have affected international-student enrollment.
Earlier this year, President Obama signed an executive order making tourism and travel more accessible in the United States. Those efforts include new initiatives to make the process of applying for a visa more secure and efficient for international travelers and students.
These changes have led to the issuance of more than 7.5 million visas in fiscal 2011 — a 17 percent increase over fiscal 2010.
“The Department of State has devoted significant resources to increase efficiency and capacity in the visa process, deploying additional personnel, expanding visa sections, and utilizing new systems and technologies to facilitate legitimate travel without compromising national security,” White House officials said in a Jan. 19 press release.
In the fall of 2011, the international-student population made up 10.5 percent of total UI enrollment. The UI had its largest number of international students: 3,442. That was an increase from 2,982 students in the fall of 2010.
Lee Seedorff, an assistant director of advising for the UI International Student and Scholar Services, said easier visa-application standards do affect international enrollment at universities.
“It just seems subjectively that fewer students are being denied right now,” she said. “Right after September 11, we saw an increase in visa denials, and that happened across the board throughout the U.S. Over the years, it has picked up, and it’s easier now to obtain a visa.”
But UI Director of Admissions Michael Barron disagreed. He said visas standards have not influenced international enrollment at the UI.
“The increase in numbers of international students in the U.S. generally, and Iowa specifically, are more likely the result of an effort of other countries to globalize the education of their students,” he said.
According to the State Department, 385,210 people were issued F-1 visas and 320,805 were issued J-1 visas in fiscal year 2010. Roughly 6.4 million nonimmigrant visas were issued worldwide.
Students who wish to study at the UI must indicate their need for an I-20 document to apply for a visa. This document allows them to obtain an F-1 or J-1 student visa, Seedorff said.
All international students studying in the United States — with exception of Canadians — must obtain a nonimmigrant visa. The F-1 — for full-time students — and J-1 — for exchange students — are the most common visas, Seedorff said.
Seedorff said the International Student & Scholar Services will monitor and report to the federal government a variety of details about each international student’s time at the UI. This includes course of studies and semester hours.
“[The process] is not hard as long as you get the offer and the I-20 from the university and you go through the U.S. ambassador’s office in some Chinese city,” said Ruihaon Min, a UI junior and international student. “You make an appointment, and they basically want to see what the purpose of you going to America is.”