Sixteen incoming graduate students at the Heller School for Social Policy and Management and the International Business School were denied visas, Provost Lisa Lynch announced during a recent faculty meeting. All 16 students were from countries in Africa, including Ghana, Nigeria and Liberia, according to Lynch.

During the October faculty meeting, Lynch assured the faculty that the schools would be working with the students whose visas were denied to “continue their admission into the schools, and that hopefully, with a reapplication, those students will ultimately be able to matriculate … in the next academic year.”

Student visas fall under the F visa category and if a student visa is denied, “the applicant is informed verbally and in writing of the reason for denial based on the applicable section(s) of law,” according to the U.S. Department of State website. The student can then reapply for the visa or apply for a waiver.

Both the visas and appeals were denied, Senior Representative to the Board of Trustees Zosia Busé ’20 said at the Sept. 22 Senate meeting. Busé also said that “Heller is working internally to figure out what [they] can do in the future to support students.” 

In an Oct. 21 interview with the Justice, Jodi Hanelt, director of the International Students and Scholars Office, said that many students were denied visas under Section 214(b) of the Immigration and Nationality Act this year. Visa denial under section 214(b) means that the applicant did not “overcome the presumption of immigrant intent” by “sufficiently demonstrating that [they] have strong ties to [their] home country that will compel [them] to leave the United States” at the end of their visa. Hanelt said that students could prove they intended to return to their home countries with bank information, proof of possession of property or proof of family ties. 

Last year, at least five students from Iran, Pakistan, Cameroon, India and Nigeria reported visa denials at Heller, according to Hanelt.

In an Oct. 17 interview with the Justice, Prof. David Weil (Heller), dean of the Heller School, said that the Heller School has always had one or two visas denied but that last year was “off the charts.” Many of the students were not given specific reasons as to why their visas were denied, he said, which makes reapplying for a visa difficult. Having students from around the world at Heller is important to the school’s mission as a school of social policy, Weil explained.

The Heller School is among many other graduate schools across the United States currently facing this problem. Also affected by this issue is Harvard University, where a Lebanese student found out his visa was cancelled after arriving in Boston, according to an Aug. 27 Harvard Crimson article. The student was later able to matriculate after Harvard and his sponsors negotiated with the federal government, per a Sept. 3 Harvard Crimson article.

University President Ron Liebowitz was among the 43 university and college presidents who signed a letter to the Members of the Massachusetts Congressional Delegation condemning recent federal immigration policies that have made it “increasingly difficult for the Commonwealth’s colleges and universities to attract and retain international students, faculty and researchers.” The letter went on to say that this “undermines the educational experiences of all Massachusetts college students, and stifles future innovation.”

According to an Aug. 28 New York Times article, the government has also been cracking down on international students who overstay their student visas. 

In 2014, the U.S. government issued 595,569 student visas, which increased to 644,233 in 2015, according to the U.S. Department of State. These numbers have decreased over the past few years with the United States issuing just 362,929 student visas in 2018, according to the U.S. Department of State

Hanelt said that this year in the undergraduate class, there was a “100 percent success rate” for students getting their necessary visas.

—Gilda Geist contributed reporting.