Tue, Jan 22, 2019 - Page 9 News List

Trump scaring off US$39bn foreign students industry

Universities in the US have seen new enrollments by foreign students drop as some complain that immigration rules are too stringent

By Nick Leiber  /  Bloomberg

Illustration: Yusha

In May last year, Luis Carlos Soldevilla graduated with one of the best grade-point averages in his Mexico City high school. For his senior project, he even tackled Goldbach’s conjecture, a famous number-theory problem. Soldevilla considered attending Boston University and the University of Washington, both of which had accepted him. He also had fond memories of the University of California, Berkeley, where during the summer of 2016 he took a computer science course. However, instead of enrolling at a US university, Soldevilla started this fall at the University of Toronto, Mississauga, where he is pursuing a double major in computer science and mathematics.

Why did he pick the Canadian institute over those big US names?

“A very important factor of my decision was that there was no [US President Donald] Trump,” the 19-year-old said.

New foreign student enrollment in the US dropped by 6.6 percent in the 2017-2018 academic year, double the previous year’s rate of decline, according to the Institute of International Education (IIE).

While the total number of international students in the US grew slightly, the drop in new enrollees was the biggest since the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, said Rachel Banks, public policy director at the Association of International Educators (NAFSA).

The decline seems to be continuing this year, Banks said.

The report attributed the drop to multiple factors, including visa delays and denials, the “social and political” environment and the cost of attending a US university.

The Trump administration’s hard-right immigration policies, such as banning people from Muslim-majority countries and separating children from their parents at the border, make prospective students and their parents feel “that we’re not a welcoming country,” Banks said.

The number of F-1 visas, the kind issued to foreign students going to university full-time in the US, dropped from about 644,000 in fiscal 2015 to about 394,000 in fiscal 2017, according to data from the US Department of State.

Vanessa Andrade, associate director of international partnerships and program development at California State University, Northridge, said that safety is always the biggest concern.

Worries range from gun-fueled massacres to violent white supremacist groups, which have been resurgent since Trump took office, the Southern Poverty Law Center said.

Foreign enrollment at Northridge was down 16 percent in the 2017-2018 academic year, according to IIE data.

The more than 1 million foreign students in the US contributed US$39 billion and supported more than 455,000 jobs during the 2017-2018 academic year, according to an analysis by NAFSA. The largest spending benefits went to California, New York, Massachusetts, Texas and Pennsylvania.

NAFSA said education is one of the US’ biggest services exports.

“Education — particularly higher education — is a major American export,” University of California, Santa Barbara, professor of economics Dick Startz wrote in a Brookings Institution blog post in 2017. “When we provide a service that leads to foreigners sending money into the US, that’s an export with exactly the same economic effects as when we sell soybeans or coal abroad.”

In a small place with a large international student population, the economic impact is seen almost immediately, said Jennifer Ewald, associate vice provost for global strategy at Fairfield University in Connecticut.

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