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US voters “positive” about int’l students

Voters in the US widely recognise the positive impact international students have on domestic students, including both intellectual and diplomatic benefits, but a belief that international students “take seats” from US peers persists, research from American Council on Education has suggested.

"Positive sentiment toward international students is greater than the negative opinions," the report said. Photo: Unsplash

Some 61% indicated that "international students should be given the opportunity, going through the proper legal channels to stay in the US to work and live after graduation"

Also included in the findings from a survey of some 1,000 US voters was that there is a lack of support for a “concerted effort” to grow the number of international students in the country.

ACE carried out the research in partnership with the Winston Group, with three iterations – administered in March 2017, December 2019 and February 2021.

“Economic value rationales that have figured prominently in advocacy and campus practice also resonate with the public”

Over time, the findings suggest that the proportion of respondents agreeing that US college students “benefit when they have close and regular contact with students from other countries” has increased. The 68% who agreed with the statement in February 2021, was a rise of eight percentage points on the 2017 survey.

“Economic value rationales that have figured prominently in advocacy and campus practice also resonate with the public,” the report stated.

While “prevailing sentiment” suggests that international students should be “encouraged” to study in the US, 49% of respondents agreed that the US “should not go out of its way to increase the number of international students who enrol at US institutions”.

However, the research also found that 55% agreed the country should encourage more students from other countries “in order to strengthen the US economy and contribute to our international competitiveness”. The ratio of respondents agreeing has risen slightly from 50% in 2017 and 51% in 2019.

“Overall, the data suggest a complex, evolving, and nuanced public view of international students and their intellectual and economic contributions, recognition of a long-term positive impact on US innovation, and a need to revisit current policy narratives and institutional practice,” the report noted.

Some 61% indicated that “international students should be given the opportunity, going through the proper legal channels to stay in the US to work and live after graduation”.

Additionally, ACE found that overall favourability of international students has not diminished in the wake of Covid-19.

A majority (53%) said they would “favour” encouraging more international students to study on American campuses once reopen to students if they are required to have a negative Covid-19 test before coming to the US. 82% would favour US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention policy to require all travellers coming to the country to have a negative Covid-19 test before flying.

“Respondents were split, however, as to whether international students should receive extra scrutiny due to the pandemic,” the paper read.

While 43% said international students should have extra scrutiny because “they could be carrying the coronavirus or a mutated strain of it”, 41% indicated they are “no more likely to be carriers of coronavirus than US students” and should therefore be subject to the same health protocols.

A “minority view” suggests international students are improperly vetted or do not adhere to visa regulations, it added.

A third of respondents – consistent across all three iterations of the survey – believe international students “pose a security threat” as a result of being improperly vetted. Despite this, 51% said they were confident the state department does a thorough job of vetting.

“The American public has high expectations for international student success”

Additionally, 41% believe that “some international students are sent by their country to try and steal valuable US intellectual property”.

“Overall concerns about foreign influence on US institutions were amplified when respondents were asked about China in particular,” the paper said.

“The American public has high expectations for international student success. They recognise international students’ academic, cultural, scientific, and economic contributions as vital members of their communities— on campus, locally, nationally, and globally — both while students are enrolled and when they graduate and enter the workforce.

“While on the whole, positive sentiment toward international students is greater than the negative opinions, respondents expressed some concern about perceived risks to national security.”

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