The US attracts more than one million international students each year, the highest number of foreign students in the world. When the coronavirus pandemic hit the US, colleges, and universities were among the first institutions to close and go remote. Instruction for fall semester we’re on halt as most schools waited to see how the pandemic would turn out. At the time, US immigration and customs enforcement made an exception and allowed foreign students to participate in remote learning. Two months later, the decision was reversed for which Harvard and MIT led a charge of more than 200 universities, tech companies, and states, in filing lawsuits against the administration to temporarily block the new rule change. Ten days later, ICE reinforced their March guidance that new international students wouldn’t be able to enter the US if their courses go online only. International students make up 5.5 percent of the students at US colleges and universities. They also contributed almost 45 billion dollars to the US economy in 2018. The number of new international students in the US over the last five years has students turn to countries with more welcoming immigration policies and cheaper tuition costs. US universities and colleges rely heavily on foreign students for tuition revenue and research and will have to reevaluate their programs if the trend continues. Fewer International students could affect the US economy.
The influx of international students:
In the last decade, the US has seen historic numbers for the number of international students. In 2018, more than one million international students came to the US for education, the highest it’s seen in the last decade. But in the last few years, the US has also made it harder for international students to study in the US. The practice of regulating students can be traced back to almost 20 years ago as the visa process has become more restrictive. After 9/11, there was a creation of a whole system called the Students and Exchange Visitor Information System or SEVIS. SEVIS tracks and monitors school students and their dependents during their program of study in the US and they mandate that schools submit updated information on students so they do not overstay their visas. Most international students who wish to study at academic institutions in the US apply for a temporary visa called the F-1. The Visa requires a full course load, one which may be an online class and restricts the ability of the students to work off-campus. Failure to meet these can lead to deportation or refusal of entry. After students finish their program, they have 60 days to leave the country or, if eligible, can switch to the optional practical training program know as OPT. OPT allows students to temporarily work in the US, from 12 to 36 months. Timing varies depending on their major and work must be directly related to their program of study.
The stakes for higher education:
US colleges and universities have lost many of their revenue sources amid the coronavirus pandemic, the American council on education, which represents 1700 universities and education-related association, and a letter to the house if representatives said: “We estimate that enrollment for the next academic year will drop by 15%, including a projected decline of 25 percent for international students, resulting in a revenue loss for institutions of 23 billion dollars”. Before the pandemic, universities and colleges were already in a fragile financial state, especially those that rely heavily on tuition and state funding. US postgraduate and doctoral level programs could also see an impact. In 2018, more than 18 percent of the students in this program were international students. Their largest presence was in computer sciences and engineering programs, where they accounted for more than 57 percent of enrollments and experts attribute the high enrollment numbers to a domestic recruitment problem.
According to the World Bank, University patent grants increased 6.8 percent for every 10 percent id international students. That means innovation suffers when fewer international students enroll in science, math, engineering, and technology programs in the US. 57% of international students pay for their education through personal or family means, 16.8 % have their education paid for by their US universities but lesser international students aren’t the only thing that could hurt these programs but also the loss of other temporary visa holders could as well. International students contributed about 41 billion dollars to the US economy during the 2018-2019 school year. That’s according to analysis from NAFSA, an organization that promotes international education. It said that more than 458,000 US jobs were created thanks to international students, supported by their spending on things like retail, dining, and transportation to name a few. China sends the most international students in the US. In 2018, more than a third of international students in the US came from China and American universities are unprepared for tuition loss from the pandemic. We can say that many big-name universities won’t see an impact but for the smaller universities, financial damage could result in fewer campuses, programs, and workers.
Life after graduation:
Beyond the quality of US higher education, another draw for international students is the job prospects offered through the optional practical training program. After students graduate, they can apply for temporary employment as an extension of their student visa through the OPT program. In 2018, an increase of more than nine percent, that is 223,085 students or recent grads were in the OPT program. Unwelcoming immigration policies are one of the main reasons why new foreign student enrollment in US universities has declined since 2016. According to a NAFSA survey, other reasons why students aren’t coming to the US include visa delays or denials, the social and political environment, and increasing enrollment at universities and other countries. NAFSA estimated it has cost the US economy 11.8 billion dollars and more than 65,000 jobs and all these are coming at a time when students are studying abroad more than ever. The number of international students around the world has doubled from 2.1 million to 5.3 million since 2001. The US OPT program caps students at 36 months if students complete science, technology, engineering, and math degree and 12 months for other majors; Canada’s program allows students to work a max of three years. Australia’s program goes for up to 18 months. In 2018, both countries saw an international student enrollment increase of at least 15 percent. In 2019, the UK voted to revert to their previous work policy of 24 months after concern over a competitive disadvantage when compared to other countries with longer post-study work programs. The country’s current policy was put in place in 2012 and only allowed students to work for four months. The change will take place in the summer of 2021. The Trump administration had considered ending the OPT program. Many institutes that oppose this program argue that this might takes away jobs from Americans. Companies are not required to pay a competitive wage to OPT, workers, which could make them cheaper than American workers. Supporters say the program is a pipeline for the US STEM workforce. According to a 2016 study from the national foundation for Americans policy, nearly one-quarter of the US’s one billion dollars start-up companies had founders who first came to the US as an international student. The business round table, a nonprofit group representing big corporations, laid out how the end of the program could affect the US economy in a 2018 study. The real US GDP could decline a quartet of a percentage point by 2028 and lose nearly half a million jobs in the US, half of which would be for native workers.
The future of US higher education:
A rising number of immigration attorneys and scholars see the current policies to restrict international students as being a part of the broader effort to use the pandemic as a vehicle for pushing through highly restrictionist policies but seeing how the administration has been defined by wanting to pursue several different limitations to legal migration, anything from green cards to immigrant workers on H1- B visas, possibly to the OPT program and also to international students could be a major boon. And COVID 19 has given them a shortcut through many if those policies. The implications for the US go beyond the economic impact. In other countries who get to come to the united states to college? Well, they are people from relatively well-off families. It tends to be people from the elites in those places; it tends to be the future leaders. Looking around the world and seeing lots of prime ministers and finance ministers and treasury secretaries have American degrees, it shows how integral these degrees are and the reason these students travel to the United States is to become someone like them. But US’s law seems to be a very big hindrance making it already more difficult task even unattainable. But the one that will be worst affected even with the ongoing pandemic crisis will be the American economy.