International students begin to return to U.S. universities after a Covid hiatus.

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International students begin to return to U.S. universities after a Covid hiatus.

After a precipitous drop in international student enrollment in 2020, the number of American student visas granted to international students has recovered to levels preceding the coronavirus pandemic.

This year, American consulates approved almost 117,000 F-1 student visas in May and June, about 90 percent of figures in 2019, according to U.S. State Department data. Among them, 57,000 Chinese students, who make up a large proportion of the international cohort, received F-1 student visas in May and June, a slight increase from 2019.

Last year, the number of international students in the United States on F-1 and M-1 visas fell by 20 percent to 1.25 million, while the number of new students dropped by 72 percent. Some students had opted to take classes remotely while others deferred their education in the United States because of coronavirus restrictions, including the suspension of in-person lessons.

The issue of visas for Chinese students has emerged as a point of contention in already strained ties between China and the United States. Travel between the countries has been largely frozen by visa controls imposed because of Covid-19 as well as geopolitical tensions.

About 500 Chinese postgraduates with offers to study STEM subjects were denied student visas this year, China Daily, a state news outlet, reported in July. Zhao Lijian, a spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Beijing, condemned the visa rejections and called on President Biden to end restrictions imposed by the Trump administration on researchers and scholars suspected of having Chinese military ties.

Campus closures last year stranded about 400,000 Chinese students studying in the United States, including 26,000 in primary and secondary schools. Many desperately tried to secure a passage home when almost all flights to and from the country were canceled.

It remains unclear how the Delta variant will affect international student enrollment. Data of visa approvals in July, one of the busiest months ahead of the fall semester, has yet to be released.

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