Saif (alias) has just graduated from Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (Buet) this year.
He recently got accepted into Purdue University at the department of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) for a fully funded PhD programme. His classes are supposed to start in August.
But when he went to apply for the visa he found out the slots are booked until December 2023, whereas he got his offer letter in February 2022.
"I might have to push back my classes for later," a disheartened Saif told The Business Standard.
"When I got my offer letter from Purdue, I waited before I applied for a visa as I had applied to other universities as well. It was during the month of February, and now I wish I had applied right away. At least there were more slots available then than now," he added.
But Saif could at least find a slot, when a large number of the students at present are not even getting that.
Shouvik is one of them, who is now a lecturer at the Islamic University of Technology. When he logged in to book a slot for visa application, he could not find any dates available.
"It showed there are currently no appointments available. You cannot even log in too many times, otherwise your account is frozen for 72 hours," said Shouvik.
This March, he was offered a fully funded PhD in ECE at the University of Maryland. His classes will also start in August.
If he does not get a visa, he might lose his funding.
"I do not want to defer the semester because I might lose my grant if I cannot join right away," he said with despair.
He expressed his frustration, "I need to stay alert all day and check for the availability of slots."
Thousands of Bangladeshi students like Saif and Shouvik are awaiting their slots for visa appointments at the US embassy, with the backlog of applications causing some of them to defer their sessions.
A large number of them have received financial aid from universities in the form of merit scholarships and research and teaching assistantships but they are fearful that they will have to forfeit such hard-earned awards with the embassy delaying visa appointments.
Another Fall 22 student Subha has been waiting on a visa slot since March. She got accepted at the University of Georgia in Sociology for a fully funded PhD programme.
She is holding on to a little bit of hope after very recently, from 25 May, a limited number of slots opened up.
But the website kept showing errors in scheduling dates. "I could not manage one date for even July or August," she informed us.
After much difficulty, she was able to book a slot for January 2023 but that is hardly going to help her, since her classes start from August this year.
She is now hoping to reschedule her slots for June/July openings.
Although the embassy has been vague in terms of communicating with the students, through Facebook post replies from the US Embassy in Dhaka, Subha got to know about the recent slot opening.
"The whole process has been so stressful and nerve-wracking that I feel getting a fully funded admission offer was easier than getting a US visa appointment," she said.
According to students who have been in constant contact with the embassy, they have a staff shortage, while the number of visa applicants is increasing every day.
The US embassy in Dhaka issued non-immigrant category visas to around 8,838 Bangladeshi students in the 2019-2020 session, a record number.
However, visa services were disrupted due to the Covid-19 pandemic and the figure decreased to 8,598 in 2021. The embassy is still struggling to cope with the backlog of unprocessed applications.
But the students are not ready to accept this excuse as US missions in other countries are issuing student visas regularly.
In terms of visa appointments, the wait time for non-immigrant student visas for Bangladeshis is approximately 587 calendar days. In India, it is only 53 days.
According to a report released by the US Department of State's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and Institute of International Education, during the 2020-2021 academic year, Bangladesh placed 14th in the list of countries that send students to the US.
In the same academic year, India ranked second by sending 1,67,582 students to the US.
Bryan Schiller, acting spokesperson of the embassy said, "The Covid-19 crisis disrupted US visa operations throughout the world. US Embassy Dhaka has been able to open up many new appointments, though, and are working to catch up with our visa interviews."
Acknowledging the potential of Bangladeshi students, he added, "We are keenly aware of the wonderful opportunities that Bangladeshi students have to study in the United States and are working hard to accommodate student visa applicants. We are prioritising student visa interviews."
While visa applications to other popular education destinations for Bangladeshi students - such as Canada, UK and Australia - are not in such dire straits, the pandemic in general seems to have left an impact.
In terms of Canadian visas, applicants from the prominent Facebook group 'Prospective Bangladeshi Students in Canadian Universities' recently signed a petition for expediting visa processing time to IRCC Singapore, Bangladesh High Commission in Ottawa and relevant authorities.
Even though around the world Canadian visas are granted within 12 weeks, for Bangladeshi students it has stretched to 20-24 weeks. A lot of students are considering alternative destinations for their higher studies because of such hassles.
Students willing to study at Australian universities have been optimistic about getting visas since the Australian government decided to open international borders for international students from December 2021.
Although borders were closed for a year and a half, visa applications are now being processed rapidly.
Tanjila, a student of Swinburne University of Technology in Australia shared her experience. "I got my visa in June 2021 but borders were closed and I was stuck in Dhaka. But as soon as Australia opened its borders, I could leave within a week."