Prospects Brighten For International Students Under Biden

Global Ed Destinations

The United States of America (US) has remained a sought-after destination for international students for decades. It is not only home to some of the best universities in the world, but also a country renowned for the myriad employment opportunities it provides to the best talent in the world. The significance, however, is not one-sided. Before the COVID-19 pandemic stalled the education sector in the US, international students contributed about $45 billion to the US economy yearly. Thus, proving to be a significant source of revenue for the country.

According to estimates, about 62% of international students procure funds for their education from outside the US. This momentous contribution that foreign students make to the US economy has been checked in the last two years, emerging as a cause for concern among colleges, universities, and other educational institutions. As the pandemic seems to abate and the world moves towards normalization, US universities have turned to President Biden for help, asking the federal government to make policies that encourage international students to again head to the US.

International students under Biden's administration

According to the 2021 QS International Student Survey, the perception of the US has improved among students under the new administration. Of the 800 prospective students surveyed, 54% of them stressed that they are more interested in studying in the US due to President Joe Biden’s presidency. While 63% of prospective students said that the pandemic has had an effect on their plans to study abroad, pointing at financial and health reasons. Further, estimates suggest that about 30% of US employers, of the 73% of companies based in New England, are planning to hire international students who graduate in 2021.

Unlike his predecessor, Donald Trump, President Bidenpaid special attention to US’ education sector during his presidential election campaign. He had stressed that his administration would boost the sector and “support and respect” the educators. Post his appointment as the President of the US, Biden took cognisance to the fact that the Trump administration’s student visa rules were had forced many global ed students to leave the country. Consequently, the Biden administration withdrew Trump’s visa proposal that sought to limit the stay of international students to four years and withdrew the rule. This decision emanated from his administration’s effort to move towards a more effective and egalitarian immigration system.

In India, which has around 20,00,000 students studying or researching in the US, the decision was welcome. Opening the possibility of Optional Practical Training (OPT) after studies to students from Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) as well as non-STEM fields. Biden’s policy changes have undoubtedly made securing employment visas post-studies more convenient and efficient for international students. US educational institutions are again looking to him to help them increase international student enrolment by devising effective policies.

Post-pandemic education

The COVID-19 pandemic blocked borders, stopped flights, and closed university buildings in the US. Moreover, the pandemic upheaval caused banks, embassies, and consulates, around the world to shut. Consequently, the number of international students dwindled. American colleges and universities lost billions as the pandemic dispersed their students and turned new applicants away. According to an Open Door report, in the 2020/21 academic year there were only 914,095 international students and Optional Practical Training (OPT) participants in the US, a marked decrease from 2016/17 when the number stood at 1.08 million. Speaking on the topic, Allan Goodman, president of the Institute of International Economics, shared another problem. He informed that before the pandemic gripped the world, around 40,000 Indian students would apply for visas to attend US universities every year. Goodman added, “From online academic fairs and virtual presentations, there isn’t any indication at all that there’s any less enthusiasm for coming to American colleges and universities”. However, “The problem is, can people get here and how much of that is dependent on containing the virus, banks opening, consulates opening, vaccinations happening.”

The National Centre of Educational Statistics states that the US has missed out on $12.1 billion in the last two years due to the decline in international student enrolments. Post pandemic, a 43% plunge in new international student enrolment was registered. This financial loss is expected to have a long-term effect and pinch US universities in the years to come. Citing this fact a group of organizations, including the American Association of Community Colleges, American Association of State Colleges and Universities, American Council on Education, and the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, have sought government aid.In a joint statement they asked the government to support higher education’s efforts by developing a“national strategy” to restore international student enrolmentto the pre-pandemiclevel.

The way ahead

While the pandemic had temporarily stalled the growth of the education sector in the US, there is hope for recovery. In spite of difficulties, the US remains a world educational center. While students from China and India account for 53% of the US’s international students, Kuwait (5.1%) Saudi Arabia (4.1%), and South Korea (2.9%) follow close behind. The current trends also seem to follow the pre-pandemic pattern, where 54% of those pursuing a major are enrolled in STEM subjects. Engineering is the most popular major, with 21% of international students opting for it.

Meanwhile, the UK has emerged as competition for the US, as the former has begun offering international students who graduate from UK universities,post-study visas of up to two to three years. In this situation, it seems likely that the Biden administration will recognise the need of the hour and focus on international students—working towards dispelling fears and encouraging students to apply to US universities in big numbers.

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