International Students Stranded by Shut Embassies


Courtesy of Chloe Zheng ’23

While most students had the choice of returning to campus this Fall, some international students were unable to obtain a visa to enter the United States during the pandemic. For anyone who wishes to engage in academic activities at an approved  institution in this country, F-1 visas issued through the U.S. State Department is required.

Along with the visa issued by the State Department, the school issues a document called Form-I20, the “Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status.” This document is renewed each year with a signature from Ms. Corcoran, the Principle Designated School Official (PDSO), or one of the campus Designated School Officials (DSOs), Ms. Newton, Ms. Petroskey, or Ms. Leggat.

During the pandemic, the school is continuing to renew the I20 for all students. For students who don’t have in person access to a PDSO or DSO, the school is permitted to update the I20 with a digital signature and send the form via email. Therefore, no problems regarding visas are encountered by students who entered Groton before this year and already have an I20.

However, certain new students could not acquire their F-1 visa, because local American embassies were  closed for appointments due to the pandemic. According to Ms. Corcoran, thirteen new students needing a student visa received their Form I20 from Groton School in April 2019. Only one of those students was able to confirm an appointment with their local embassy. As this student arrived on campus, Ms. Corcoran was able to register them through the SEVIS (Student Exchange Visitor Information System) and sign their I20 document. 

The twelve remaining students that could not obtain the F-1 visa were unable to arrive on campus, as they were not able to enter the country. They all have engaged in remote learning while they waited for an interview appointment with their local embassy. Students in this scenario received an adjusted Form I20 with a new program start date that will list a date when they can begin attending in-person classes.  

Caiyu Yang ’25, a new student from Beijing, said, “now I’m still not able to get my visa because the embassy hasn’t reopened yet. The school assigned ICAP advisors for us so we could receive help, and also made sure we could contact the school for any sort of extra help.” She will wait until the embassy opens and she would like to return to campus as soon as possible.

Unfortunately, to date, several appointments ranging from November to December were canceled just weeks ago, as embassies are still being closed with no further information.