Education Group Calls for National Foreign-Student Recruitment Strategy

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Mon Jun 19 13:09:53 UTC 2006
>>From the issue dated June 23, 2006

Education Group Calls for National Foreign-Student Recruitment Strategy

The United States is losing its position as the destination of choice for
international students and must take determined action to reverse the
trend, according to a new report by Nafsa: Association of International
Educators. The report, "Restoring U.S. Competitiveness for International
Students and Scholars," released this week, says visa restrictions set
after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and the lack of a
national strategy are causing the United States to lose out to growing
global competition for international students. The report calls on the
government to develop a strategy to attract foreign students and scholars,
coordinate the actions of its various departments, and remove barriers
that keep foreign students out. The report follows one from Nafsa on the
same issue published in 2003.

"From today's perspective," Nafsa states, "we can see that by the time the
report was released three years ago, the era of robust growth in
international student enrollments in the United States was already over.
There are now fewer international students enrolled in U.S.
higher-education institutions than there were in the fall of 2001." During
the 2003-4 academic year, the number of foreign students in the United
States dropped for the first time in three decades by 2.4 percent.
Foreign enrollments continued declining the following year. According to
the report, preliminary data for 2005-6 suggest that foreign enrollments
were flat. In the meantime, the report says, some countries, such as
Britain, have seen their foreign-student enrollments grow steadily, the
result of energetic recruiting campaigns that began years ago.

Positive Steps

Nafsa praises the State Department for reducing the visa delays and other
obstacles foreign students and scholars face, but says more needs to be
done. In a well-publicized incident last February, for example, a
prominent Indian scientist, Goverdhan Mehta, dropped his plans to attend
an academic conference at the University of Florida in protest over what
he called "humiliating" treatment by U.S. officials during his initially
unsuccessful request for a visa. The Nafsa report says that unlike its
competitors, the United States has no national strategy to attract foreign
students, and the report calls on President Bush to appoint a "senior
White House official" to oversee policy in this area. One urgent task for
the official, the report says, would be to coordinate policy among the
departments of Homeland Security, Commerce, Education, and State. Nafsa
calls DHS "the 800-pound gorilla" and says that the department is under no
mandate to work with other agencies toward helping to recruit foreign
students. As a result, the report states, "the United States government is
in worse disarray on this matter than it was before 9/11."

Also among Nafsa's recommendations were: Eliminate the requirement that
visa applicants prove they do not intend to immigrate, remove or adjust
caps on the number of work visas granted to foreign students who wish to
stay on after graduation, allow more flexibility in the visa-application
review process, and allow short-term study on tourist visas. Congress is
already working on some of these issues through major new legislation in
the politically charged area of immigration. While the bill adopted by the
House late last year contains no changes in student-visa regulations, the
recently passed Senate bill contains changes that would ease restrictions
on foreign students in science, technology, or mathematics specialties,
according to higher-education officials monitoring the legislation.

Key Exemptions

The Senate bill would exempt students who seek to enroll in graduate
programs in those fields from the need to demonstrate that they do not
intend to stay in the United States after their studies. (Those seeking
visas for graduate programs in other fields, however, would continue to
have to prove they intend to return home.) The bill would increase from
one year to two years the length of time that a student who completes a
graduate degree in those fields can work in the United States under a
provision known as "optional practical training." The bill would exempt
such students from limits on the number of H-1B classifications issued
annually. This classification status allows graduates to work temporarily
for up to several years in a professional field. For students with a
bachelor's or higher degree in other fields, the cap on the number of such
classifications would be raised from 65,000 to 115,000 annually and could
continue rising each year.

Students graduating with advanced degrees in science, technology, or
mathematics would be exempt from limits on the number of green cards
issued, which allow holders to become permanent immigrants. Not all the
changes Nafsa has proposed in recent years are contained in the bill. For
example, most of the rule relaxations apply only to graduates in science,
technology, and mathematics, fields in which employers have been loudly
appealing for the right to hire more foreign graduates. "It's rather
narrow," said Victor C. Johnson, Nafsa's associate executive director for
public policy. "But it's a start." He said he worried, however, that many
of the changes would be lost when the House and Senate reconcile their
respective bills.

Amy M. Scott, senior federal relations officer of the Association of
American Universities, said that after lobbying the House in recent
months, she and other supporters "are hopeful that many of the provisions
will end up in the final legislation." The report is available online
( Report). Section: International Volume 52, Issue 42, Page A44

Copyright  2006 by The Chronicle of Higher Education

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