International student visa applications down by 40%

Germany’s federal government has confirmed that the coronavirus crisis has had a considerable impact on academic mobility.

Responding to a demand for information made in parliament by the opposition Green Party in March, the government revealed that there had been a sharp fall in the number of visa applications submitted by international students and researchers.

Processing abroad of applications for stays in Germany can now take up to one year, parliament was also told.

From 2019 to 2020, the number of visa applications for international students and researchers fell by almost 40%. In 2019, a total of 78,985 visa applications were processed, with 70,672 visas being granted. The corresponding figures for 2020 were just 49,073 and 43,207 respectively.

Pre pandemic Germany had nearly 400,000 international students studying at its universities, according to Studying in Germany.

Thirty-one out of 173 German diplomatic missions abroad are either granting no visas at all or are only doing so in a very restricted manner. In the same period, the overall number of international first-year students fell from 32,229 to 22,830.

The federal government explains that the spread of the virus has led to a sometimes considerable reduction of staff capacities for handling visa applications at the consulates abroad, resulting in longer waiting periods for applicants.

Many visa offices have had to restrict public hours and take measures to protect visitors as well as staff. Additionally, operations are sometimes constrained by measures, including lockdowns, taken by authorities in the respective countries.

At a number of consulates, applications from students and researchers are prioritised in order to help them observe deadlines. Owing to Germany having imposed entry restrictions for citizens from countries hit by new coronavirus variants, German consulates in these countries, including the United Kingdom, Ireland, South Africa and Brazil, are currently not granting visas for their students and researchers.

Waiting for a visa can take up to one year. The Greens refer to several cases of students having been confirmed entry to a university course and awarded grants and yet being unable to obtain a visa. In a number of instances, their entitlement to the grants has thus expired.

Prospective international students are also facing problems regarding prep courses, language proficiency programmes and the various tests required for successful applications to study in Germany.

The federal government states that online services are sometimes available for this purpose but points out that students may have to reckon with delays owing to restricted testing capacity or temporary closure of institutions because of the pandemic.

Institutions such as the Goethe-Institut, a German cultural association which promotes studying the German language abroad, or the TestDaF-Institut, which specialises in language testing, are working on remote supervised digital tests not requiring local attendance to address these problems.

Michael Gardner E-mail: