International students hurt by visa processes

By dragging their feet, members of Congress have jeopardized the ability of American universities to compete for the most qualified students and scholars in the world.

Policies adopted after September 11, including excessively stringent student visa regulations, have hampered higher education institutions’ ability to recruit international students, as two new independent studies have shown, and may threaten the future of domestic innovation in technology and knowledge.

For the first time since 1971, enrollment of foreign students declined nationally this fall after more than three decades of growth. A separate report by the Council of Graduate Schools has logged three years of falling numbers among member institutions.

However, Congress has yet to act on the visa reforms advocated by a large coalition of higher education groups and endorsed by the Government Accountability Office since last February, which would keep America competitive internationally. In fact, instead of acknowledging the problem, Sen. Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.) has blamed “censored or biased media outlets” in the home countries of foreign applicants — a slap in the face to American allies like India and South Korea, where students have faced some of the sharpest declines in admittance to American universities.

Universities have done their part by streamlining applications and providing counseling to students. Now Congress must do theirs and reduce the wait and procedural red tape around student visas.

Instead of the current policy of American isolationism, an open door to international students is necessary to counter the misinformation that breeds hatred and intolerance.