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Prioritise international education, NAFSA urges presidential hopefuls

NAFSA’s board of directors has urged presidential hopefuls to create a “more welcoming and globally engaged United States”.

“To say that I’m proud of the board for this statement is an understatement of major proportion," said NAFSA CEO Marlene Johnson.

"What we have come to appreciate is that international education has become an even more critical tool for the shaping of our foreign policy"

In an official statement issued last week, the association’s board urges presidential candidates to adopt policies that “foster academic, diplomatic and cultural collaboration only possible through international education”.

“We urge our nation’s leaders to advance study abroad and international learning”

“We urge our nation’s leaders to advance study abroad and international learning; welcome international students and advance commonsense immigration solutions; and demonstrate our commitment to global engagement by continuing forward progress on Cuba and offering education and aid to refugees,” the statement reads.

International education is an “often underutilised means” by which the country can refine its foreign policy, improve national security and the economy and build understanding and cooperation with other countries, it argues.

The document outlines how the incoming government can work to increase access to study abroad in order to ensure students are internationally engaged.

It highlights that only around 1% of US students study abroad each year, and that many student profiles are underrepresented in this group, including nontraditional students and students of colour.

“Our next president and the US Congress must work to eliminate the international education divide that disadvantages huge swaths of citizens by shutting them out of vitally important learning,” it says.

Prioritising study abroad in the annual budget and support for initiatives such as the 100,000 Strong in the Americas Innovation Fund would be positive steps towards this goal, it suggests.

The next president must also support incoming international students, the statement urges, by championing comprehensive immigration reform.

Immigration reform should include eliminating the requirement that foreign students demonstrate they have no intention of staying and working in the US post-graduation; expediting the visa process for low-risk travellers; and enabling the families of international students to study or work in the US.

“Our next president and the US Congress must work to eliminate the international education divide”

The statement also reiterates NAFSA’s position on Cuba, calling on the next president to build on the “positive momentum” already underway and work towards normalising relations with the country and abolish the travel ban for US citizens.

Syrian refugees are also highlighted, with the statement calling for the US to resettle 100,000 Syrian refugees and streamline the visa process for Syrian students.

The statement follows the publication of three policy briefs issued late last year and early this year focusing on the importance of international students to the US economy and national security; and embedding international learning in higher education to enhance security.

Announcing the publication of the statement at NAFSA’s annual conference in Denver last week, outgoing CEO Marlene Johnson commented: “To say that I’m proud of the board for this statement is an understatement of major proportion.”

“I think what we have come to appreciate these last years, is that international education has become an even more critical tool for the shaping of our foreign policy, for improving our security and strengthening our economic and promoting mutual understanding and cooperation among all nations.”

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