Speaking to The PIE News at the IALC workshop in Boston last week, agents said concerns Latin American students and their parents have are a response to the recent anti-immigration rhetoric coming from the White House.
As a result, interest in studying in other countries, particularly Canada, is expected to peak.
“Mexicans are considering other destinations, particularly Canada, more”
Many students are requesting other destinations “because they’re afraid of what to expect when they get [to the US],” said Isabel Matos, director at ICCE in Brazil.
“This is for sure a reaction to Trump’s decisions and speeches, about international students and foreigners in general,” she said. “We have been feeling this already.”
Javier Carmona Silva, co-founder of Elementary Second Language, based in Santiago, Chile, meanwhile said safety while studying in the US tops the concerns of many students and their parents.
“The type of student that we send, their parents pay. Their parents will not pay to put their [child] in a dangerous place,” he said. “So then parents say I prefer to send my son or my daughter somewhere else where they are not in danger.”
Also commenting on Chilean students, Khristian Rueda, marketing director at Yaicos, said interest hasn’t been affected as much by the government’s anti-immigrant rhetoric, but added the Mexican market is more sensitive.
“The Chilean students really want to go to the US no matter what,” he said.
“I would say for sure they still want to go to the US, maybe because they don’t feel that policies have an effect directly so it is no problem at all to go to the US. But Mexicans are considering other destinations, particularly Canada, more.”
The Trump effect has already caused ripples of concern through the US higher education sector, as stakeholders discuss ways to prioritise global education amid the increasing nationalistic political environment.
And an early survey of international student applications showed 40% of US higher education institutions have seen a drop.
The J-1 work-travel visa programme has also seen a decline in students from Mexico, according to Mary Carmen de la Torre, director of Puebla-based International English Adventures.
“We’re cautiously optimistic about the Latin market but we don’t want to get ahead of ourselves”
“I have 25 students coming to the United States on the J-1 visa programme,” she said. “Unfortunately that programme is going down because Mexican parents don’t really want their students to come to the United States.”
“I think this is sad because the United States used to be the most popular destination to improve your English, but now that market is changing,” she said.
In 2016, some 9,000 Mexican nationals were granted a US visa in the J category.
Canada, although already a popular destination for English language learning among Latin Americans, is seeing a spike in interest from those who would have once considered the US.
Comparatively lower study costs, and other benefits including work rights and a welcoming approach to international students have contributed to its attraction in this region.
“We sell Canada more now because it’s cheaper, maybe because the US dollar is higher and the pound is expensive,” said Silva. “Maybe Canada is better for us right now because of the price.”
Meanwhile, according to Matos at ICCE, Canada is the number one destination for Brazilian students at the moment, “not only because of [the rhetoric] but also the cost.”
Educators at the recent Languages Canada conference predicted they will see an increase in students from Mexico in particular, due to the exchange range and the Trump effect.
However, John Taplin, president of Global Village English Centres in Calgary and Victoria said it’s still a bit too early to tell.
“We are coming out of winter, it’s still only late March, so it takes a while for interest to build up,” he said. “We’re cautiously optimistic about the Latin market but we don’t want to get ahead of ourselves. Students have a lot of choice.
Restrictions in the US as well as the UK, could contribute to an increase in enrolments to Canada, he noted. “They are not going to be positively received in Latin America, students are going to have to work harder with their agents to get to those destinations.”
For US schools, the shift in political headwinds comes in addition to already challenging trading environments over the past two years. “Most of the changes we’ve seen over the last year and a half are mostly due to world economics,” said Eimear Harrison, executive vice-president at US-based Rennert International, which has schools in New York and Miami.
“The more recent political atmosphere in the US is obviously something that’s worrying”
“We saw the Spanish and European markets fall away, and Korea, then Brazil because of the Brazilian crisis. The more recent political atmosphere in the US is obviously something that’s worrying.”
The school’s teen programmes are very popular among Mexican students, said Harrison, but as the anti-immigrant narrative continues, that could fall and spread to other nationalities.
“Brazil has always been in love with New York and the US and it’s starting to rub off a little bit,” she said.
“Our biggest challenge is to get around the message,” she explained. “Especially the daily updates that come out of the White House, it’s really impossible to keep the noise at bay.”
Silva in Chile agreed media reports are making an impression on student perceptions of studying in the US. “The media is very powerful and what you see on Facebook, on Twitter, everything is bad about Trump so you can’t fight those big media or social media things.”
He added, “[US institutions] can write a blog, say their safe, but what you see in Chile on the TV and everything, every comment is bad about Trump, so it’s really hard.”