“Visa reform would offset declining domestic enrolments, spread US values and give students the education they want”, says Kent Devereaux
Like many US higher education leaders, I greeted with relief the Biden administration’s recent announcement that, from August 1, the US will begin to re-admit students from Brazil, China, India, Iran, South Africa, the UK and the European Schengen area.
This is great news, both as a first step towards reopening our borders and as an opportunity to drive a broader conversation about the importance of international students to US higher education institutions.
Nevertheless, many logistical obstacles still confront the approximately 1 million international students who currently choose to study in the US every year. The greatest concern is how quickly the US can get its visa-issuing apparatus back up and running. Higher education institutions can do their part by issuing the requisite I-20 form, but if US embassies and consulates remain closed around the world, students will be unable to secure their F-1 visas and the efforts of admission staff will all be for naught.
Adding to the logistical complexity is the fact that many countries are missing from the list of “national interest exemptions”. Institutions such as ours, with international students from the likes of South Korea, Japan and Vietnam may have to shift their recruitment focus in the short term. Some students from excluded countries will agree to defer their US start dates, while others may start their US education online this fall – an approach made easier by the additional flexibility recently announced by the Department of Homeland Security. But others may choose to study elsewhere instead.
Still, this is an important stride towards recognising the vital role that international students have long played in US higher education – and to grasping the even bigger role that they could play.