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Groups call on Biden to address falling international student numbers

New data collated by NAFSA: Association of International Educators reveals a decrease in the amount international students contributed to the U.S. economy.  This follows last month’s publication of Open Doors which shows a 43% decline in the overall numbers of international students studying at U.S. higher education institutions.  The decrease of international students’ economic contribution is a particularly telling sign, both of pandemic-related operational barriers as well as reflective of broader political climate which is unwelcoming to international students.  Audrey Willams June of The Chronicle of Higher Education writes that the amount international students contributed to the U.S. economy in 2019-20 fell to $38.7 billion from $40.5 billion in 2018-19. This 4.4-percent decline was the first drop in the more than two decades that NAFSA has been calculating economic impact data. 

As a response, NAFSA published a series of full-throated policy recommendations for the Biden-Harris administration to reverse this trend.  NAFSA calls for the administration to restore the perception of the United States as a welcoming destination for international students, scholars, and researchers, and make this goal a priority for the State Department and embassy outreach.  NAFSA itemises a number of key changes, including overturning harmful visa and immigration policies established through executive order by the Trump administration and establishing a coordinated U.S. recruitment strategy to proactively attract a diverse pool of talented individuals from around the world. The call goes on to propose legislation that would create a direct path to lawful permanent residence (green card) for international graduates of U.S. colleges and universities and Provide predictable temporary and permanent legal immigration pathways for international faculty, researchers, scientists. 

In parallel, as part of a broader call for higher education policy change led by the new administration, 45 additional U.S. higher education-focused organisations including the American Council on Education (ACE) appealed to the incoming president to reverse a number of rules or executive actions taken by the Trump administration, including regulations that limit the duration of status of student visas.  In the January 2021 edition of Foreign Affairs, Samantha Power, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, strongly voices her support for these measures, saying that the incoming Biden team has an opportunity now to be the most engaged with international education of any administration in decades.