Recent figures disclosed by the U.S. State Department show that the number of F-1 and J-1 foreign student and exchange visitor visas issued annually fell by 42.5 percent between 2015 and 2018, prompting the American Immigration Council (AIC) to note that the United States has become a less welcoming destination for international students.
The New York Times also covered this topic on August 28, with one prospective Harvard student, a Palestinian from Lebanon, stating he was denied entry after a U.S. Customs and Border Protection agent took issue with social media posts stored on his computer. (The student has since been admitted entry and started classes at Harvard.)
In a July 16 letter to Secretary of State Michael Pompeo and Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Kevin McAleenan, Harvard University president Lawrence S. Bacow addressed this issue as well, expressing much concern over the growing uncertainty and anxiety around issues involving visiting foreign students and international scholars, emphasizing that it is in the interest of sustaining America's premier higher education sector to facilitate the transfer of students, faculty and researchers. He further claimed that the "diverse talents, experiences, and insight drive discovery and fuel our work" and that visa and administrative processing delays are making scholars' attendance and engagements unpredictable and anxiety-ridden.
The economic fallout should not be lost on Americans either - the AIC reports that the 1.1 million international students studying in U.S. universities during the 2017-2018 academic year alone added $39 billion to the U.S. economy through tuition, room and board, and created or supported more than 455,000 U.S. jobs. Above and beyond the revenue generated, the consideration to the creative contribution of foreign students who ultimately choose to make the United States their permanent home cannot be quantified.
Bacow indicated that the routine issuance of student visas at consular posts have become bogged down in a quagmire of administrative processing, which has caused students delays in commencing classwork or missing out on entire semesters of study at their chosen university. Many students have become disheartened and have withdrawn applications for university entrance in the United States and have chosen instead to head for other countries for undergraduate and graduate studies, which will ultimately affect the United States' competitiveness in the global marketplace.
Bacow further made the case in his letter both to U.S. State Department officials and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to reduce the hurdles and obstacles being placed in the way of foreign students. Last year, we reported that U.S. Citizenship Services had issued a policy memorandum intending to restrict the definition of "lawful presence" for foreign students. This effort by the administration was halted through injunctive relief by the federal courts in May 2019, creating reprieve for international students studying in the United States.
Our Immigration Group will continue to report on any developments concerning this topic.
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