Why are international students increasingly turning to countries other than the United States?

For decades, international students coming to American universities have been at the forefront of innovation and progress. Countless technological and societal advancements have been created by immigrants who came to the United States to study and then started or worked at companies like Google, Tesla, AT&T, Johnson & Johnson, and Texas Instruments.

However, in recent years, US universities have seen a drop in international student enrollment, which a recent analysis found could have far-reaching effects for Texas and the nation.

In 2019-2020, the number of international students nationwide fell 1.8% – to just under 1.1 million students – compared to the previous school year.

Between the 2018-19 to 2019-20 school years, international student enrollments in Lone Star State fell 5.9%, according to Open Doors, which oversees international enrollments in the United States. The majority of foreign students in Texas come from India, China, Mexico, Vietnam and South Korea.

The decline in international students can be attributed to factors such as a highly polarized debate over immigration, increased competition from countries like Canada and Australia, additional visa restrictions for dependents, and an uncertain path. to obtain a work visa to the United States after graduation.

American universities, public and private, still welcome more international students than any other country, but the decline is constant. New international student enrollments fell from 300,743 in 2016 to 267,712 in 2020, a drop of 11% in five years.

Higher education institutions in the United States have a harder time competing in the global market because other countries are doing more (providing easier routes for post-graduation work opportunities.) still have the best higher education system in the world, ”said Lisa Montoya, vice-president of global initiatives at the University of Texas at San Antonio.

The trend, which has accelerated over the past five years, could cost Texas as much as $ 2 billion a year, according to analysis by the National Association of Foreign Student Advisers (NAFSA), a global association with a goal non-profit dedicated to international education.

Texas, with its UT, Texas A&M, and Texas State higher education systems, as well as dozens of private research institutes, benefits greatly from the influx of foreign talent. It ranks third, after New York and California, for international student enrollments.

Coming out of the restrictions imposed by the pandemic, universities are worried about what the drop in foreign student enrollments means not only for the economy of these institutions, but also for the composition of their student body resembling a commercial landscape. globalized.

Contributing factors

Julia Gelatt, senior policy analyst at the Migration Policy Institute, said restrictive immigration policies imposed under the Trump administration have led to a decline in the number of international students.

“(There was) more scrutiny and more scrutiny applied to all kinds of visas, including student visas which led to some denials of international students (and) the ability to come to the United States,” said she declared.

The Trump administration has restricted H-1B visas – issued to skilled workers with higher education degrees – arguing it would ensure that U.S. employees are not “replaced” by foreign workers. This has had an impact on large tech companies that depend on foreign workers, many of whom are graduates of the US education pipeline.

Montoya, vice-rector of UT-San Antonio, added: “With the last presidential administration, the country seemed less friendly towards international people and international students, which may have dampened the enthusiasm associated with studying. in the USA.”

Bushan Sonmale, a 26-year-old Indian computer scientist, graduated with a master’s degree in computer science and management from the University of Texas at Dallas in the spring. He was able to stay in the country on a work visa sponsored by the accounting and consulting firm Ernst & Young.

Sonmale had started working part-time while still in school, then his employer sponsored his H-1B visa after he graduated. About 65,000 H-1B visas, valid for three years, are issued to full-time skilled workers.

Sonmale’s visa was approved on October 1.

“I was very lucky that they sponsored my visa. I know how difficult it is these days, ”said Sonmale, from Mumbai. “I don’t know what will happen after my visa expires, but for now I will continue to work to see the possibility of staying here permanently.”

Economy and cultural losses

Losing international students presents a big challenge for Texas colleges in a number of ways: culturally and economically.

The American economy is propelled by immigrant entrepreneurs, professors, scientists and other professionals who initially came to the country as college students.

Pranesh Aswath, 60, came in 1985 from Bangalore, India, to study for his Masters in Materials Science and Engineering at Brown University. Now he is the Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs at the University of Texas at Arlington.

“Bringing international students to UT Arlington or any university gives that cultural immersion by interacting with students from other countries. As students graduate and enter the workforce, businesses are now multinational corporations and people all over the world work there, ”Aswath said.

“So if students from Texas have had these experiences in college of working and studying with people outside of their own culture, it’s a lot easier to work in these companies.”

Pranesh B. Aswath, University of Texas at Arlington International Provost, presented at the Science & Engineering Innovation & Research building on the UT Arlington campus. (Ben Torres / Special Contributor)

UTA enrolled 4,582 international students during this fall semester, or 11% of total enrollment.

According to Aswath, allowing international students to enter American institutions provides a cultural emergence and experience for American students.

Justin Yancy, president of the Texas Business Leadership Council, the diversity that comes with having international students helps Texas businesses be more competitive and help grow the economy.

“We should not be afraid of international growth in terms of talent and workforce. We have to accept this. We need a talented and skilled workforce, and we also need them from across the state, country and the world, ”Yancy said.

According to the National Association of Foreign Student Advisers, during the 2019-2020 school year, international students help support 22,157 jobs in Texas.

These students pay a full tuition fee, which is on average about three times the state tuition fee. They also spend money and contribute to local taxes whenever they buy food, gas, pay living expenses, shop, or travel.

“We need them, we can’t do it alone with the kind of growth we need to continue to meet the demands of the state, we can’t do it alone,” Yancy said.

Where are they going?

Countries like Australia and Canada make it easy for international graduates to stay and work, and prioritize other applicants for permanent residency. Last year Britain introduced a Global Talent Visa which speeds up the legal status of people in areas where there is insufficient demand for skilled workers.

“Students from all over the world are looking at their options and interested in the quality of education they can get in the country (they choose to go there), but also their job opportunity after finishing their studies, Said Gelatt. “So students can consider going to other places like Canada or Europe, and we might lose out in a global talent competition. “

Montoya said the citizenship path for international students in Canada is very attractive and difficult to compete with. For example, students have different options to apply for a work visa or permanent residence without a company sponsoring them after completing their studies in the country.

Nonetheless, she is confident that UT institutions will continue to work together to attract more students and continue to provide diversity in higher education in the state.

Additionally, institutions across the state are emphasizing programs in science, technology, engineering, arts and math (STEAM), and cybersecurity.

For example, the University of North Texas offers new degrees in high-demand areas such as data analytics, artificial intelligence, and cybersecurity. These programs will help prepare students for the “big data economy” of the future, Pieter Vermeule, director of international recruitment at UNT, in a statement.

“Working in (culturally) diverse teams from different countries allows (native) students to develop intercultural communication skills and understand how to work with people from all over the world. A skill that will help them enter the workforce, ”said Montoya.

Kimaya Vyavhare, 30, from India who obtained a PhD in Materials Science from UTA in 2020, is among those graduates of US universities who are looking to other countries for professional opportunities.

She is currently working for Kennametal, a Pennsylvania industrial tooling and materials company, on a one-year vocational training work permit. But there is no guarantee beyond that.

She believes the process of obtaining an immigrant visa that can later be adapted for permanent residence is too cumbersome and “unfair”.

“I don’t intend to stay. I’m just looking for work experience, ”Vyavhare said. “I’ve seen other friends go the visa route and it’s just too long (and) not worth it. We’re already investing so much in studying here and we need to do more.”

She said two of her cousins ​​were looking for options to study abroad.

But they are unlikely to follow in his footsteps and come to Texas. Right now they are both looking at facilities in Canada.

About Mark A. Tomlin

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