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“Urgent” need for refugee data on US campuses

Despite efforts to enrol more refugee students into higher education, there is little information available about how many are studying on US campuses, according to the Presidents’ Alliance and Duolingo English Test. 

More information is needed about the number of refugee students on college campuses. Photo: Unsplash.

Over 54,000 students on F-1 visas may have been refugees in 2022/23

A new report estimates that in the 2022/23 academic year, over 54,000 students on F-1 visas may have been refugees, but the organisations want more robust data to be collected on this group.  

The figure constitutes approximately 5% of the total international student population in the US, not including those who came through on dedicated refugee routes. 

The report highlights the challenges of calculating this number as national data on international students does not disaggregate refugees. The estimate is based on information from the UNCHR, OECD and Open Doors. Authors say there is an “urgent need” for more systematic data and benchmarking of best practices. 

“Refugee students today overcome many hurdles to study in the US,” said Laura Wagner, director of refugee student initiatives at the Presidents’ Alliance.

“Without understanding the presence and needs of refugee students in US higher education, our ability to effectively offer critical support to these students is limited.”

The UNCHR has set a goal to increase youth refugee enrolment in higher education to 15% by 2030. It currently stands at 7%, compared to around 42% of non-refugees. 

The US government recently announced the launch of Welcome Corps on Campus, which will enable refugee students to apply to colleges and universities and arrive through the US Refugee Admissions Program.

However, while this program is being established – the first cohort is set to arrive in fall 2024 – refugee students are likely to rely on the F-1 visa route. 

The report calls on the higher education sector to play a more active role in addressing the growing global refugee crisis. The Presidents’ Alliance has also set out recommendations for supporting postsecondary refugee students, including adapting consular interviews and providing Special Student Relief. 

“For refugee students, higher education isn’t just about earning a degree, it’s a path to a more secure future,” said Laura Kaub, Duolingo University Access program advisor.

“Everyone working in education has a role to play in addressing today’s humanitarian crisis. The important thing is just to take that first step.”

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