Yumiko Hara, a 29-year-old insurance company employee, decided recently that she needed to study English to advance her career.

And like many Japanese, she thought that studying in Japan was not “good enough” to achieve fluency, so she decided to study in the United States. However, after Hara was accepted into an intensive English program in Washington state, her student visa application was denied.

“I was very surprised,” she said. “I had never heard of anyone who was rejected for a student visa.” However, many education exchange officials in Japan and the U.S. said Hara’s experience is not unusual, while the U.S. consulate said there has been no change in visa policy.

Tadashi Yokoyama, director of international services for the Center for International Cultural Studies and Education, a large overseas study agency, described the problem. “Since about 1995, it has become apparent that more and more student visa applications have been rejected. Before then, an application for a (student) visa by a Japanese national was almost never a problem. Now students also have to provide more documents before they are approved and the process takes a lot more time,” he said.

An American administrator of a well-known exchange program was emphatic in his claim that visa procedures have changed dramatically for the worse. “The consulate has definitely tightened up. Now it seems like they decide an applicant is ‘high risk’ for overstaying if they are single women over 30 or have not performed well in high school … and turn them down,” said the man who declined to be identified.

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