Nearly 40% of American colleges saw a decline in international applicants, a recent survey of more than 250 institutions showed. Chinese and Indian students — accounting for 47% of the one million international students in the United States today — registered a 25% drop in undergraduate applications. Additionally, almost half of graduate schools surveyed reported decreases in applications.
Students cited a variety of concerns over applying to US institutions, such as a perceived increase in student visa denials and hostility towards foreigners in the country. Indian students in particular were concerned about the recent racially-motivated attack in Kansas. The possible curtailing of the H-1B program, which allows international students to stay and work in the country, also led students to question the option of studying in the United States.
International students are crucial to US-Asia cultural and economic exchange. In the 2014-2015 academic year, 630,500 Asian students studied in the United States and accounted for 56% — or $16.9 million — of the total spending by international students. Asia hosted 11.4% of American students abroad, or more than 35,700 students, during the same year.
International students also contribute to the creation of a multicultural learning environment for all students. They share traditions from home and enrich classroom discussions while learning about the United States through sports and other activities. Their influence goes beyond college campuses: the presence of international students has encouraged universities to establish cultural education centers and Asia-centered cinemas for the surrounding community.
In addition, technology firms like Microsoft and Google rely heavily on foreign talent for STEM research and development; 46% of Asian international students, including nearly 80% of Indian students, study STEM fields. A drop in the number of international students — especially from Asia — would impede innovation in these companies, thus eliminating opportunities for both Asians and Americans. Internationals also often fill roles in underserved medical areas in hospitals and as foreign language teachers in schools, both under-capacity fields, through the H-1B program.
Genna Liu is a research intern at the East-West Center in Washington and a government and economics student at Dartmouth College.