The United States granted nearly 15,000 F-1 student visas to Indians between October 2019 and September 2020 (FY20), according to data from the US State Department. This is 64 per cent lesser that the total number of F-1 visas issued to Indian students in the previous year, lowest since financial year 1999-2000. For immigration, the financial year in the United States begins from October and ends in September.
In a similar trend, the number of L-1 and H-1B visas issued to Indians fell by 46 per cent and 28 per cent, respectively, in FY20 as compared to the previous year. The H-1B visa, most sought-after among Indian IT professionals, is a non-immigrant visa that allows US companies to employ foreign workers in specialty occupations that require theoretical or technical expertise. L-1 visa is for internal company transfers.
The drop in US student visa was mainly due to the COVID-19 outbreak as the Department of State temporarily suspended routine visa processing services. In response to significant worldwide challenges related to the COVID-19 pandemic, US visa offices in India cancelled processing of applications from March 16.
Earlier in July, the US immigration authority had announced that foreign students will have to leave the country or risk deportation if their universities switch to online-only classes in this fall semester due to the coronavirus pandemic. It had said that the students currently staying in the US and enrolled into such programmes "must depart the country or take other measures, such as transferring to an institute with in-person tuition to remain in lawful status".
International students enrolled in academic programmes at US universities and colleges study on an F-1 visa and those enrolled in technical programmes at vocational or other recognised non-academic institutions, other than a language training programme come to the US on an M-1 visa.
India sent the largest number of students (251,290) to the US after China (478,732) in 2017 and 2018, according to the latest Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) 'SEVIS by the Numbers Report' 2018. The number of students from India increased from 2017 to 2018 by 4,157.