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

They warn that it will result in the “banishment of untold numbers of international students and exchange visitors acting in good faith.”

Last month, additional plaintiffs including the American Federation of Teachers joined the suit, filed in federal court in Greensboro, North Carolina. More than 60 colleges and universities filed an amicus brief in support of the litigation.

“The US becomes vastly less attractive when coming here risks a 10-year re-entry bar through no fault of your own,” said Mayer Brown partner Paul Hughes, lead counsel for the plaintiffs.

The new policy “injects enormous uncertainty and unpredictability into our immigration laws,” Hughes said. “Now a student can come and try to do everything perfectly legally, but suffer enormous consequences if they make a minuscule mistake.”

The Trump administration has asked the court to dismiss the case, saying the plaintiffs do not have standing to sue.

Michael Bars, a spokesman for the immigration service, said the agency is focused on upholding the law “to the greatest extent possible” and is not purposely targeting foreign students.

US universities “are in this rather uncomfortable and precarious position,” said Ravi Shankar, the director of the international office at Northwestern University, which joined the amicus brief. “On one hand, we have to comply with regulations for national security, which we all take seriously. On the other hand, we’re trying to make sure our messaging to students reiterates that they’re welcome here.”

Like other institutes, Northwestern has increased its outreach, provided free legal advice to foreign students and pushed lawmakers to intervene in individual cases where students are denied visas.

“We want to inform students of what’s really happening,” Shankar said. “We found fear was often based on assumptions.”

So with the US losing out, which countries are winning over those students? Australia’s foreign student growth rate was up 15 percent in the 2016-2017 academic year and Canada’s hit 20 percent, according to NAFSA.

At the University of Toronto, the number of foreign undergraduates such as Soldevilla climbed 14.8 percent, from 4,023 in 2016 to 4,620 last year.

Applications increased about 20 percent for each of the past two years, said Ted Sargent, the school’s vice president of international.

“Many are looking not just for a place to come to school, but potentially to settle in the long run,” Sargent said.

That is a key consideration for Istanbul-born Alara Demirag, an architecture student at the University of Toronto. The 20-year-old was accepted into four US universities, each of which awarded her scholarships. Studying in Canada was appealing, in part because it was easier to stay and work after graduating — and for her parents to join her.

She said that some of her Turkish friends accepted by US universities were denied student visas, including one who got into Berkeley and “was devastated.”

For decades, “the US has had the first pick in choosing the best minds from around the world,” said Angel Cabrera, president of George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. “It isn’t widely understood, but it’s a huge economic advantage that would be very dangerous to risk losing.”

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