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US must cut out “anti-foreigner messaging”

The White House must cut out “anti-foreigner messaging” in order to maintain international student interest in the US, the leadership of NAFSA has warned as the organisation announced a suite of training programs for sector professionals.

Photo: Pexels

"[Students] began to wonder ‘if this country's on the list, could my country be next?'"

In the Council on Foreign Relations Why It Matters podcast, NAFSA executive director and CEO Esther Brimmer said that several years of policies that “projected an anti-foreigner message [had] taken their toll”.

“If Trump is reelected, I think you’ll see that as a vindication for his protectionist policies on immigration and trade”

“If there continue to be policies that come out that threaten [students’] ability to comply with the status or create such ambiguity that they don’t know whether they’ll be able to study that will send a message to the world that the US does not want to have international students. And that’s not the case,” she said.

Policies she cited included 2017 travel bans and the more recent online study ban for international students, which saw the administration quickly backtrack.

“People on campuses do want to have international students. But if they see national policies that say the opposite it makes it very, very hard for educators to welcome the students the way they would like to,” Brimmer noted.

NAFSA has also announced its NAFSA PathTM initiative to help sector professionals identify skill gaps within their teams and select training opportunities to support individuals that will fortify the team, provide cross-training opportunities, and improve capacity.

Now more than ever, the international educator community needs to pave the way to a secure future, NAFSA said.

The initiative also aims to enable job seekers and new professionals to develop a customisable career path and learning plans that “help them stay on track”.

Bernard L. Schwartz senior fellow at the Council on Fore­­­ign Relations Edward Alden who also feature on the podcast said that the international education has seen “quite a sharp turn of direction” under the Trump administration.

“The administration has a different view about foreign students than… what has been the strong consensus here for decades,” he suggested.

“Their belief is, first, that foreign students are taking positions in the universities away from American students.”

Secondly, he continued, the administration’s concern that international students remaining in the US post graduation take jobs away from Americans.

Methods seeking to discourage students from arriving in the US include longer and more onerous visa processes and limited post work opportunities, Schwartz said.

“Targeted interventions” to identify Chinese researchers and students acting as spies should be favourable over a blanket ban on Chinese students who are working in science and technology fields, he contended, suggesting an across the board ban “would just be tremendously costly to the United States and an absolute shot in the foot”.

Before the pandemic, numbers of new students coming to the US declined by almost 11%, Brimmer reminded, with 2017 travel bans sending a message to some international students and scholars that “they’re not welcome in the United States”.

“That’s been a real concern,” she said.

“I think then we will really see a generation’s worth of damage in terms of foreign students coming”

“That sends a message, not only to those from specific countries cited in the executive order, but to all students. [They] began to wonder ‘if this country’s on the list, could my country be next? Would that mean that maybe I can’t get a visa?’” Brimmer concluded.

“I don’t want to get particularly partisan here, but if president Trump is reelected, then I think you’re going to see that as a vindication for his protectionist policies on immigration and trade in other areas,” Schwartz continued.

“And I think then we will really see a generation’s worth of damage in terms of foreign students coming. If there’s a different outcome,I think the US can still recover its ground.”

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