Recruiting Foreign Students in the Trump Years

A foreign student looks pensive.For the first time in years – if not decades – colleges, universities and graduate programs in the United States are facing a decline in enrollment of foreign students. This month, CNN reported F-1 visas issued to foreign students decreased nearly 20 percent in the year that ended September 20, 2017. The Wall Street Journal reported on a survey of all two-year MBA programs that showed a drop of more than 30 percent in admissions.  Meanwhile, The US News and World Report found that 40 percent of US higher education institutions reported a drop in international student applications, and US engineering schools are seeing “precipitous” drops in applications from foreign students, according to this article in Science Magazine.

Why are foreign students abandoning college and post-grad enrollment in United States institutions?

Most analysts point to the political rhetoric around immigration in the United States to explain the declining enrollment figures, but the answer is far more nuanced than it appears. While President Trump’s America First platform leaves foreign students wondering if they will be able to get a job when they graduate, American higher education institutions are also seeing increased competition from college and universities in Canada and Australia. The attorneys of FordMurray work with a variety of higher education institutions and we understand the benefits of having foreign students on campus.

To help our higher education clients stem the decline in foreign student enrollment, we recommend the following:

  • The facts on immigration are more promising than the news.  Today’s headlines can be sensational, and although there are sweeping claims and calamitous tweets seemingly every day, we have not seen any changes to the H-1B program that provides the preferred pathway to work visas for most foreign graduates. Thanks in part to the widespread support of business leaders, we expect the H-1B visa for highly skilled workers to be a vital component of immigration law in the United States for years to come. Communicate positive messages regarding how your institution is actively responding to changes in immigration law.
  • Change your recruitment strategies, highlight your strengths.  It is vital to have recruitment strategies that change with the climate. Foreign students help create vibrant campus communities, bring global cultures to your institution, augment the diversity of thoughts and experiences, and enhance learning environments for all students. Show your foreign students the welcoming campus they will call home and provide examples of your college’s commitment to inclusive. Additionally, it is helpful to illustrate your commitment to their post-graduate success by highlighting internship programs that can introduce students to potential H-1B visa sponsors, and provide valuable documentation for visa applications.
  • Be proactive.  Continue to recruit, in fact, enhance your recruiting efforts to deal with the stemming tide of applications. Continue to educate foreign students on US immigration despite the news reports – F-1 student visas remain available, remain a viable option, and remain an opportunity for students to learn in some of the best institutions and programs in the world.
  • Stay in compliance.  When you admit a foreign-born student, you share the responsibility in helping them maintain the status of their I-20 visa.  Your credibility as an institution and ability to recruit foreign students depends on staying in SEVIS compliance.  Many of the biggest changes in immigration law has not happened in Congress, but in changes to enforcement. You should be 100% sure you are stay in SEVIS compliance, for your institution and for your students.  Download our complimentary, 19-page guide for an in-depth look at SEVIS compliance at your institution.

If you don’t currently have immigration counsel, or are hoping to make a change, we are always happy to talk with you.