Study shows drop in foreign grad enrollments

    Foreign graduate student applications and enrollment in research universities in the United States dropped considerably this year due to heavier student visa laws enacted as anti-terrorism measures, according to a survey conducted by the National Association of Foreign Student Advisers, the Association of American Universities, the National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges, the American Council on Education, and the Council of Graduate Schools.

    The report stated that such a statistic indicates the “stagnation and decline” of international education exchange programs in the United States.

    “The perception appears to be that it reflects an unwelcoming climate in the U.S., and that it’s difficult to obtain a visa,” NAFSA spokeswoman Ursula Oaks said.

    According to associate director of the International Center Michael Hindi, however, the influx of foreign students, scholars and faculty to UCSD has not dropped in the past few years despite the more complicated visa application system, but has rather steadily increased, especially among foreign undergraduate and graduate students.

    In the 2000-01 academic year, UCSD received 2,690 international scholars, faculty, grad students and undergraduate students. By the 2002-03 school year, the number rose to 3,431. Results from the 2003-2004 year are not yet available.

    “I think UCSD is a magnet school, and students from all over the world are interested in coming here,” Hindi said.

    Hindi also said that UCSD receives international students primarily from East Asia, Europe and Latin America, and noted that institutions who receive many students from the Middle East and South Asia may have lower numbers of enrollment.

    According to the report, of the 250 universities that participated in the survey, about half of the prospective international graduate programs in Fall 2004 reported a decline in student application, while 38 percent reported no change and 14 percent reported an increase. The drop is “particularly acute” among the 25 doctoral and research institutions that accept the highest number of foreign graduate students.

    “We had been hearing significant [informal] information about students who experienced visa delays in the process,” Oaks said. “In terms of what the problem is, it was more serious in the graduate area.”

    Compared to applications for Fall 2003, the survey shows a 60-percent decline in 130 research and doctoral graduate school institutions, while 28 percent reported no change.

    An investigation by the U.S. General Accounting Office revealed similar trends. The GAO’s study specifically investigated science research students from China, India and Russia who applied for a student or exchange visa.

    According to the GAO report, obtaining a visa can be delayed up to 67 days for foreign science research students in China, India and Russia. The interview process with a visa consulate may take two weeks on average in Russia, but five to six weeks in China and 12 weeks for an interview in India, the study stated.

    “The key is that when the applicant applies for the visa, it takes a certain period of time. The applicant must understand that they need to apply early,” GAO spokesman Jess Ford said.

    Both reports cite that the possible reason behind the decline is due to increasingly strict visa issuances inspired by higher security measures implemented by the United States to control terrorism.

    “There exist conflicts between a freer issuance of student visas for the United States and maintaining homeland security, particularly after the events of September 11, 2001,” Ford said.

    According to Wayne Cornelius, director of the UCSD Center for Comparative Immigration Studies, the reports’ results highlight the situation of foreign graduate students rather than undergraduate students because graduate students “have more options” and other countries are less stringent in issuing visas.

    “If they’re qualified to attend graduate school in the United States, they’re probably just as qualified to enter Ph.D. programs in European countries or in Japan,” Cornelius said. “They probably have more options, and frankly, those other potential host countries are less problematic in terms of getting student visas.”

    Cornelius noted that the terrorists of the September 11, 2001 attacks had tourist visas, not student visas. He also said the answer to controlling terrorism does not lie in strict student visa issuances but in monitoring issuance of tourist and temporary visas.

    “If you wanted to crackdown [on potential terrorists], that would be the area,” Cornelius said. “Student visas are the least likely to be abused.”

    NAFSA recommends a “balancing system” to encourage foreign students to study and research in the United States yet accommodate homeland security by requesting the Department of State to present a more efficient and timely visa-issuance system.

    Cornelius expressed concern that if the problem is not resolved, U.S. research institutions and programs may be undermined.

    “We need to maintain competitiveness in certain scientific fields and we really cannot hope to do that if we don’t have access of the best brains from abroad,” Cornelius said.

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