Walter Caffey, the vice president for enrollment management at the University of New Haven, said he finds himself fielding more questions from international applicants about safety on campus. “There’s a larger concern about feeling welcome studying here in the states,” he says, adding some international students are starting to consider universities in Australia and the U.K., while others are inclined to wait a year before accepting an admissions offer in the U.S.
According to the survey, many students and families across the Middle East, Asia, and Latin America fear that Trump’s travel ban could soon extend to additional countries or eventually lead to visa denials at U.S. embassies and consulates in China, India, and Nepal. China and India are the top two sources for international students in the U.S.
This isn’t the first time foreign students have been affected by U.S. travel orders. In 1980, Jimmy Carter invalidated the visas of Iranian citizens, resulting in the deportation of over 400 students. In the aftermath of 9/11, George W. Bush also instituted a crackdown on student visas that drew criticism for isolating higher education in the U.S.
Despite this history, many international students are eager to reap the benefits of an American education. After speaking with a number of prospective students in India, Wiewel told Inside Higher Ed that he was “struck by how much U.S. higher education is still considered the holy grail.” While 39 percent of the universities surveyed saw a drop in international applicants, another 35 percent reported an increase, while 26 percent saw no change. It’s worth noting that many international students submitted their applications before the Trump administration first declared a travel ban.
The full effect of the United States’ proposed international restrictions will become clearer as college acceptances begin to arrive this spring. But according to research from Harvard and the World Bank, the U.S. has been losing its share of educated immigrants to Britain, Canada, Australia, Norway, and Mexico for decades. This shifting distribution of foreign talent is good news for universities outside the U.S., but bad news for American innovation. Economists say there is a correlation between immigrants and a rise in both patents and technology in the U.S. As of February 2016, over half the nation’s billion-dollar startup companies were co-founded by immigrants.
Foreign students are especially drawn to university STEM programs, making up nearly a fifth of STEM workers with a bachelor’s degree in the U.S., 40 percent of those with a master’s, and more than half (54.5 percent) of those with a Ph.D. Across universities, the decline in foreign applicants has been felt most acutely in engineering programs.
A major concern for the U.S. could be the loss of talent from China and India, which provide nearly half of the nation’s international students. According to the survey, a quarter of universities saw a drop in undergraduate applications from China, while 32 percent saw declines in Chinese graduate applications. Meanwhile, 26 percent of universities reported a decline in undergraduate applications from India, in addition to a 15 percent decline in India’s graduate applications.