By Stephen Yale-Loehr and Emmie Smith
New York Daily News
At the beginning of April, students haunt their email inboxes to see where they have been admitted to college. An admissions envelope usually brings a sigh of relief. This year, however, international students and U.S. colleges find plenty to worry about.
U.S. colleges and universities are concerned because they rely on most international students paying full tuition to help subsidize American students and to offset state funding cuts. But according to new statistics, applications by international students have declined 3%, and international admissions have declined 4%. This is the first decline the United States has seen in over a decade.
The decline hurts both universities and the U.S. economy. International students contributed $39 billion to the U.S. economy in 2016. That money supported an estimated 450,000 U.S. jobs. This is an economic bright spot, an area the United States should promote, not weaken.
But weaken we do. An admission letter does not guarantee that an international student will actually receive a visa.
The Trump administration’s travel ban makes it impossible for students in some countries to receive visas. In other countries, U.S. consular officers are scrutinizing student visa applications more carefully and taking longer to decide cases.
And news reports suggest that the Trump administration may limit visas for students from China in retaliation for alleged intellectual property violations. About a third of all international students in the United States came from China last year, the highest of any country. It’s as if the United States has rolled up its welcome mat and replaced it with an iron curtain for international students.
International students who do make it to the United States have continuing worries. According to the Institute of International Education, about three-quarters of international students pay for college from personal and family funding. New tariff wars and fluctuating exchange rates make that more difficult.
International students also worry about their job prospects after they graduate. The Trump administration is threatening to take away practical training opportunities after graduation for international students who major in science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM) programs. Currently, such students can work in the United States for up to three years after they graduate. Half of all international graduate students study in STEM fields.
Eliminating their opportunity to work in the United States after graduation would mean that they will start the next Google or Microsoft in their home country, not the United States.
With all these uncertainties, more international students are considering universities in other countries such as Canada. Canada offers lower tuition than many U.S. colleges, has a simpler visa process, more immigration pathways after graduation and better long-term job prospects. The Canadian Parliament also passed a law allowing international students to count part of their time as students toward their citizenship residency requirement. These initiatives contrast sharply with the messages coming from the United States. Not surprisingly, in 2017 the number of international college students in Canada grew 20%.
International students help, not hurt, America. They stimulate our economy, bring new ideas, and help the United States compete in the global economy. The Trump administration should reverse course and roll out the welcome mat for international students again. Otherwise, we are shooting ourselves in the foot.
Yale-Loehr teaches immigration law at Cornell Law School. Smith practices immigration law at Miller Mayer in Ithaca, N.Y.