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

“You might not notice in New York City, but you will notice in a town like ours,” she said. “I don’t think people outside of higher-ed understand the threat to local economies.”

As state and federal dollars dried up, schools used tuition from international students to make up the shortfall. With US high-school graduation rates flat or falling, international enrollment helped boost revenue “due to limited tuition discounting,” Moody’s Investor Service wrote in a 2017 report, in which it downgraded its credit outlook for the US’ higher-education sector from “stable” to “negative,” where it remains today.

In December, Moody’s said more stringent immigration policies were playing a role in falling international enrollment.

Immigration lawyer Dana Bucin, a Hartford, Connecticut-based partner at Murtha Cullina, has advised hundreds of foreign students at institutes including the University of Connecticut, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Yale University.

She said that colleges are worried their pipeline of highly talented internationals will shrink.

The students are “being stressed out of their minds, not because they’re planning on breaking law, but precisely because they’re trying to comply with it,” Bucin said. “They feel they’re here to contribute, not to steal anything away.”

And contribute they do. Graduate education in critical areas such as science and engineering, where America is increasingly falling behind other countries, could not function without foreign students, warns a 2017 report by the National Foundation for American Policy.

“At approximately 90 percent of US universities, the majority of full-time graduate students in computer science and electrical engineering are international students,” it said.

Because there are not enough US-born students enrolled in these kinds of programs, international students who are should automatically be given green cards, said Fariborz Ghadar, the director of the Center for Global Business Studies at Penn State University.

The university’s international student body dropped about 5 percent from 9,134 in the 2016-2017 academic year to 8,636 at its largest campus, University Park, in the last academic year.

“If you oppose immigration, you can say: ‘Well, we’ll enroll some more Americans to offset the decline,’ but we’re already letting in all the native-born Americans who are qualified,” Ghadar said.

A handful of universities, including Haverford College and the New School in New York, sued the Trump administration in October last year over an immigration rule change that took effect in August. It altered how a concept known as “unlawful presence” is enforced, making it easier to ban foreign students for three-year or 10-year periods if they are found to have violated the terms of their admission.

Such terms include not working more than 20 hours per week at a campus job, forgetting to notify university officials after moving to another dormitory, or even if an official makes a mistake with the paperwork.

Plaintiffs contend that the change is illegally “designed to impose tens of thousands of re-entry bars” annually, and that it violates federal immigration and administrative procedure laws.

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