Wishing my blog a Happy 9th! 2009 to 2018 is a lot of Information, Insights & (Occasionally) Intrigue. Here’s to another nine (9) years of more of the same!
Shalom (שלום), MAA
Wishing my blog a Happy 9th! 2009 to 2018 is a lot of Information, Insights & (Occasionally) Intrigue. Here’s to another nine (9) years of more of the same!
Shalom (שלום), MAA
The Trump administration recently proposed (yet another) new rule related to nonimmigrant, including student, visas. This one, if approved, will establish a maximum period of authorized stay for international students and other holders of certain nonimmigrant visas. Why? Is there something broken that needs to be fixed? Are the overstay rates breaking new records? Do the naughty few who overstay their official welcome represent a danger to US national security? Can’t the system deal with them using existing rules, regulations, and laws?
One of the fears is that this new rule could make it harder for US colleges and universities to recruit international students in what is already an exceedingly challenging and often exasperating environment.
More specifically, the proposed rule would modify the period of authorized stay for certain categories of nonimmigrants traveling to the United States from “duration of status” (D/S) and to replace such with a maximum period of authorized stay, and options for extensions, for each applicable visa category. The Statement of Need reads as follows: The failure to provide certain categories of nonimmigrants with specific dates for their authorized periods of stay can cause confusion over how long they may lawfully remain in the United States and has complicated the efforts to reduce overstay rates for nonimmigrant students. The clarity created by date-certain admissions will help reduce the overstay rate.
Since the devil is usually in the details and I’m an academic by training, I decided to take a few precious minutes out of my life and have a look at the latest Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Fiscal Year 2017 Entry/Exit Overstay Report (PDF download). Unless you’re a glutton for bureaucratic punishment, the DHS press release from 7 August 2018 should suffice.
The report provides data on departures and overstays for foreign visitors to the US who entered as nonimmigrants through an air or sea Port of Entry (POE) and who were expected to depart in FY17. The report includes temporary workers and their families, students, exchange visitors, temporary visitors for pleasure and business, and other nonimmigrant classes of admission.
What were the overall results for FY17? Not too shabby. DHS determined that there were 52,656,022 in-scope nonimmigrant admissions to the United States through air or sea POEs with expected departures occurring in FY 2017. (This represents the vast majority of all nonimmigrant admissions.) DHS calculated a total overstay rate of 1.33%, or 701,900 overstay events. As of the end of FY17, there were 606,926 Suspected In-Country Overstays. The overall Suspected In-Country Overstay rate was 1.15% of the expected departures.
Among 1,662,369 F, M, or J visa holders, 4.15% stayed beyond the authorized window for departure at the end of their program. The suspected in-country overstay rate for all three visa categories was 2.35%, including 2.25% for F, 2.36% for M, and 2.59% for J visas.
Note: An individual who is a suspected in-country overstay has no recorded departure, while an out-of-country overstay has a recorded departure that occurred after their lawful admission period expired. In other words, the former are still floating around the US somewhere, while the latter left, albeit belatedly.
Making a Mountain Out of a Molehill?
Here are the FY17 overstay rates for nonimmgrant students and exchange visitors (F, M, J) admitted to the US via air and sea POEs (excluding Canada).
S. Korea: 1.48%
S. Arabia: 1.49%
Viet Nam: 6.11%
Canada: N/A (Students need an I-20 but not a F-1 visa.)
None of these percentages come as a surprise. Among the 10 countries on this list, which happen to represent the top 10 sending countries for international students in the US, Viet Nam ranks 2nd – after Nigera – with a suspected in-country overstay rate of 6.11%. With the exception of Brazil, the other rates range from less than 1% (Taiwan) to just over 2% (India). It’s as if the MAGA bean counters are looking for issues where none exist.
Here is the FY17 breakdown for Viet Nam:
Expected departures: 16,900
Out-of-country overstays: 447
Suspected in-country overstays: 1032
Total overstays: 1479
Total overstay rate: 8.75%
Suspected in-country overstay rate: 6.11%
Finally, here are the FY17 overstay rates for Vietnamese admitted to the US for business or pleasure, i.e., on B visas.
Expected departures: 91,901
Out-of-country overstays: 493
Suspected in-country overstays: 2326
Total overstays: 2819
Total overstay rate: 3.07%
Suspected in-country overstay rate: 2.53%
While the student in-country overstay rate is higher than the tourist and business rate, it certainly doesn’t ring any alarm bells. The bottom line is that virtually every Vietnamese tourist, businessperson, and student left the US on time. Instead of overreacting and throwing the baby out with the bathwater, why not focus on those countries with exceptionally high overstay rates?
Shalom (שלום), MAA
Yet Another Obstacle in the Path of Obtaining a US Student Visa?
Sadly, YES, if this proposal becomes law. From the horse’s mouth:
Section 212(a)(4) of the INA: Any alien who, in the opinion of the consular officer at the time of application for a visa, or in the opinion of the Attorney General at the time of application for admission or adjustment of status, is likely at any time to become a public charge is inadmissible[…] In determining whether an alien is excludable under this paragraph, the consular officer or the Attorney General shall at a minimum consider the alien’s-(I) age; (II) health; (III) family status; (IV) assets, resources, and financial status; and (V) education and skills . . . .
As Fragomen pointed out in its analysis of this proposed regulation, If finalized in its current form, the rule would require foreign nationals submitting an application for adjustment of status, a visa or a change or extension of nonimmigrant status to establish that they are financially self-sufficient.
If you’re up to it, here’s the full-length version (PDF) published in the Federal Register, a publication I once had to scan back in the day because it was part of my job.
While I thought this would be covered by the second criterion in the student visa process, namely, ability to pay, this rule sets the bar even higher and gives consular officers the world over yet another reason to just say no. (This time we’re talking about student visas not drugs a la Nancy Reagan.)
According to Ware Immigration, any of the following factors could become a “negative factor” that convinces DHS you are likely to become a public charge:
This is not good news for a country already experiencing declining international enrollments for a host of social, political, and economic reasons, as well as push and pull factors related to other leading host countries. Add this to a long list of negatives. The perfect storm, indeed.
The “glass half-empty” part of me sometimes wonders why the Trump Administration doesn’t just cut to the chase and hang out a sign, digital and offline, that says International Students (and Other Foreigners) Are No Longer Welcome Here.
Shalom (שלום), MAA
The Vietnamese government is keen on attracting more FDI and expanding educational opportunities for its young people. Decree 86 covers both bases. In the spirit of giving credit where credit’s due, it is an example of good governance, a smart and timely decision that will pay off in the long-term for both individuals and society.
My latest article appears in the fall issue (November 2018, vol. 16) of the NAFSA: Association of International Educators IEM (International Enrollment Management) Spotlight Newsletter. It’s about the proliferation of private, including international, schools in Viet Nam, and the contributing political and economic forces shaping this changing educational landscape.
Shalom (שלום), MAA
This is a post I wrote for The World View, a Boston College Center for International Higher Education blog hosted by Inside Higher Ed (IHE). It is as much a wake-up call as it is a call to action.
One of my main points, which obviously went over the heads of some readers who commented, is that perception is reality for many parents and students around the world considering study in the USA. (As one colleague put it, “Some of those comments could support a masterclass entitled Missing the Point.”)
Another is that US educational institutions must aggressively and smartly “sell” not only themselves, responding to current concerns in their marketing and promotional materials, but also study in the USA, in general.
Competition is fiercer than ever and the US currently has a long list of negatives when compared to other countries hosting large numbers of Vietnamese and other international students, e.g., Australia and Canada.
Here’s a link to my last post, Gun Violence & Study in the USA, which is related. And here’s the unabridged version of the #YouAreWelcomeWhere? article.
When I first saw the hashtag for #YouAreWelcomeHere, a social media campaign launched in the weeks following the 2016 presidential election as a means of reassuring concerned international students and encouraging them to study in the United States, I was afflicted with a momentary case of cognitive dissonance.
The first questions that popped into my spinning head were “What about on a different campus, an adjoining neighborhood, the city up the road, or another state? And by whom, everyone or just international educators who see the value of hosting large numbers of international students?
The “glass half full” part of me likes this heartfelt, upbeat messaging campaign. But while it gives me a small measure of hope, however fleeting, it is ultimately a hollow sentiment that has little meaning against a grim backdrop of xenophobia, racism, and violence.
Yes, #YouAreWelcomeHere is true in many places but the sometimes harsh reality in a nativist climate rife with acts of hostility towards “the other,” including foreigners, tells a very different story, including at the highest levels of government. For example, there seems to be no end to official proposals that, if approved, would have the net effect of discouraging international students from choosing the US as an overseas study destination.
Contempt for “The Other” and Garden-Variety Violence
The US is a diverse country in more respects than one. There is no national standard governing how US citizens treat one another, evidenced by a long list of hate crimes, not to mention casual comments made in public places that are emotionally damaging to those targeted but that do not violate any law. This includes the case of the Golden West College professor videotaped last March telling a young, Asian-American couple out for a walk with their baby to “go back to your home country.”
The US is an extremely violent country when compared with peer nations in the industrialized world, many of which are friendly competitors that host large numbers of international students. Sharath Koppu, arrived in the US from in January 2018 to begin a master’s degree program in computer science at the University of Missouri-Kansas City and was murdered during an attempted robbery in July.
Not surprisingly, in a country where violent crime is a daily occurrence in many communities, coverage of his murder was sparse beyond Kansas City. Not so in India, the victim’s home country. The murder was plastered all over the national media with headlines like Indian-origin student killed in Kansas City and Sharath Koppu Student From Telangana Shot Dead In America.
It’s safe to assume that more people in India and the vast Indian diaspora read those articles on- and offline, and saw the news reports within hours of the incident than those who have watched the #YouAreWelcomeHere YouTube video, uploaded on 23 November 2016 and, as of 18 October 2018, had just 13,532 views.
Study in the USA: The Export That No Longer Sells Itself
Even though study in the USA, both secondary and postsecondary, is still a valuable brand in Viet Nam and many other countries, it no longer sells itself. Current news— the mass shootings, visa denials, US government policy announcements such as the submission to social media information from all visa applicants for the past five years, the latest missile strike, travel bans, and a roiling cauldron of perceptions and misperceptions can have a decisive impact on where a young person studies and where parents want their children to study.
US higher education needs to do more, much more, to stanch the hemorrhaging of international students and the increasing velocity of their flow to competitor nations such as Australia, Canada, and the UK than post hashtags, spout slogans, produce feel-good videos watched by a handful of people, and offer scholarships to a limited number of students, as commendable as that may be.
Since the US government is not going to be of much assistance, this urgent task falls to those of us around the world who work with international students who might wish to study in the USA. US educational institutions that welcome international students to their campuses need to make the case that their students are safe, a primary concern of parents and students, for obvious reasons.
Rather than simply say that their campuses and communities are safe – official talk is cheap —they need to prove it with student testimonials, written and video, documentation in the form of crime reports, etc. Just like the country in which they are situated, not all institutions are equal in this respect. This should be one of a number of key “selling points”.
Institutions must also stress appropriate strengths against a positive backdrop of why international students should study in the USA in the first place, tell their story in a compelling and appealing manner, especially digitally, and provide superior comprehensive service to students, even if they are working with many of them through agents. If that means hiring additional staff, then that’s the price institutions have to pay to stay in the game.
That Which Is Within Our Power
Saying something doesn’t make it so. At the end of the day, it’s only so much cheerleading, regardless of how it is packaged. The writing is on the international student recruitment wall in large, fluorescent, spray-painted letters with exclamation points. Those of us who work with international students whose dream is to study in the USA ignore it at our collective peril.
In The Enchiridion, a short manual of Stoic ethical advice that dates to 125 AD, Epictetus, a Greek philosopher born into slavery, wrote: There are things which are within our power, and there are things which are beyond our power. Fully cognizant of the latter, we must work quickly, creatively, passionately, and with greater urgency on those tasks related to US international student recruitment that are within our power.
Shalom (שלום), MAA
P.S.: Question for IHE: Color me old-fashioned but why not require people to provide their names and, if applicable, affiliation, instead of allowing keyboard critics to hide behind their lame monikers? Anonymity is like alcohol; it can have the effect of loosening the tongues of those who have it. (Here’s an excellent Psychology Today article from 2014 on the phenomenon of online trolls.) Newspapers require writers of letters to the editor to provide their name and telephone number for confirmation purposes. Why not IHE?
I spoke to some students last Friday at a top private high school in Hanoi about overseas study. Among the small group that was planning to study overseas, they mentioned Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, and New Zealand as potential destinations. Not one expressed interest in studying in the US. When I asked why, they mentioned the following reasons: too many guns, gun violence, shootings, high cost, and their view that US Americans are not friendly.
A day later, there was a shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue that left 11 dead, including Holocaust survivors. Some of the students’ impressions and worst fears were confirmed – yet again. (The jury is out on the overall impact of these negatives on study in the USA among parents and students in Viet Nam, though there is a discernible shift taking place to Canada.) As of August 2018, there were nearly 30,000 young Vietnamese studying in the US, a slight decrease from December 2017. In addition, the number of student visas issued in the past year, ending on 30 September 2018, dipped by 5-6%, a possible harbinger of future enrollment decreases.)
For Many, Perception is Reality
Aside from the tragic loss of human life at the hands of people who hate and have easy access to guns, including assault rifles, widespread gun violence, including mass shootings, are a PR disaster that is not going away anytime soon. This issue weighs heavily on the minds of students and parents who might otherwise be interested in the US as a potential overseas study destination.
Sadly, out of the world’s 251,000 gun deaths every year, six countries are responsible for more than half of those deaths, including the US. The other five countries are Brazil, Mexico, Colombia, Venezuela, and Guatemala. The US is #1 among its peer countries in the industrialized world in the number of deaths due to gun violence. (Note that those countries have weaker economies and institutions, e.g., criminal justice systems. The study from which this information was obtained excludes deaths from war, terrorism, executions, and police.)
For many students and parents considering study in the USA, perception is reality. Do mass shootings occur everywhere? Of course not. Is the US the most statistically dangerous country in the industrialized world in terms of gun violence? It’s not even close. Are Australia, Canada, Germany, and other countries statistically safer? Absolutely.
Especially from an outsider’s perspective, the US love affair with guns is puzzling and widely viewed as a form of collective insanity. Aside from presidential talk of “shithole countries” and other insults not likely to be forgotten or forgiven, this is one of the contributing factors to the perception that the US is unsafe and generally unfriendly.
Whitewashing reality, along with with “thoughts and prayers,” ain’t gonna do the trick. Those US colleagues who don’t think this is one of a number of factors in the perfect storm (read nightmare) that is international student recruitment for US educational institutions in these turbulent times have their heads buried in the sand, preferring to live in a state of denial.
Just like saying something doesn’t make it so, ignoring or trivializing reality doesn’t make it any less real and threatening. Speaking of which, you might be interested in reading a blog post entitled #YouAreWelcomeWhere? A Call to Action, which I wrote for The World View, sponsored by the Boston College Center for International Higher Education and hosted by Inside Higher Ed.
Shalom (שלום), MAA
Incentive-Based Compensation & International Student Recruitment: Is There a Better Way? By Mark A. Ashwill & Eddie West
The agent issue in the US is reminiscent of those trick candles that delight children and some adults who are children at heart. You blow them out and they continue to ignite themselves – like magic! – using a fuse similar to those used in dynamite sticks.
Compared with their counterparts in Australia and the UK, US universities are relative latecomers to the wild and woolly world of commissions-based international student recruitment. In recent years steps have been undertaken to professionalize practice in the States and equip institutions with the tools they need to engage recruitment agents responsibly.
But while those efforts represent progress, they clearly haven’t assuaged everyone’s concerns about the well-being of students who are, or should be after all, front and center for those of us involved in educational advising and international student recruitment.
Last year, the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE) rekindled the controversy surrounding the use of agents in a very public fashion. The regional accreditor released a draft policy that sought to stipulate that MSCHE-accredited institutions would be prohibited from paying incentive compensation for the recruitment of any student, domestic and international student alike. Following a period of public comment MSCHE agreed to conduct additional research, including a legal review of the draft policy, before taking further action.
As it turns out, MSCHE quietly decided to follow federal regulations that prohibit incentive compensation for the recruitment of domestic students but allow it when it comes to “foreign students residing in foreign countries who are not eligible” for Title IV student financial assistance; see 34 CFR §668.14 (b) (22) (i) (A). In other words, the Commission backed down, deciding to hang its hat on the “foreign student carve-out”, or exception, to the incentive compensation rule, essentially caving in to the demands of commission-based international student recruitment supporters.
MSCHE’s decision to permit the institutions in its purview to continue using per-capita commissions for the recruitment of international students parallels the road chosen by the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) in 2013. After a period of extensive deliberation, the association concluded that “while NACAC should continue to be very cognizant of the potential effects of commissioned recruiting, it should also address the changing trends in international recruitment and lift the ban in favor of a best practice stance.”
The Fatal Flaw in Current Practice
The fatal flaw in commissioned recruitment is that most agents prioritize their partner schools’ interests over those of the students and parents they advise. This means that most guide or, in many cases, drive students to their partner schools because of the gold (commission) at the end of the rainbow (enrollment process). Moreover, most agents represent many partner schools, each of which can pay varied commission amounts. Remuneration can be as little as a few hundred dollars, or many thousands. And so the brute economic logic is that opportunistic commissions payouts vs. best fit often drive student advisement. (Many agents also “double dip,” piggybacking off of this approach by also charging a fee to parents.)
Bonus incentives are also common. A rhetorical question to consider: Agent A has a contract with University B that promises $1,000 per referral for the first 9 students thus enrolled in an academic year, but $1,500 per enrollment of student numbers 10 through 20. Will prospective student #10 receive the same integrity of advice as student #9? The unfortunate answer is clear.
Indeed, instead of customers as queen or king whose goals are paramount, students and their parents, the key decision-makers, are treated as pawns in a mostly predetermined and opaque process over which they have little control and in which profit frequently trumps a commitment to serving their best interests.
This is a dilemma that advocates of agency-based recruitment have yet to resolve. The blithe assumption is that concerns about unethical business practices are being adequately addressed, despite widespread evidence to the contrary. In fact, some of the most vocal opponents of the Middle States’ draft policy were those who have a vested financial interest in this business practice, hardly a qualification for credibility.
In the spirit of “it takes two to tango,” it’s important to point out that there are educational institutions, albeit a small minority, that are not discerning about which education agents they work with as long as their agents produce. For them it’s all about “showing them the students.”
Since such agents recruit students in a way that puts partner schools’ interests first, students are not always well-informed about the admitting institution and therefore not always pleased with what they discover once enrolled. This can result in lackluster student retention and negative word-of-mouth, which reflect poorly on both the school and the agent. Those institutional officials who choose to work with unethical education agents are hardly better than their partners in crime.
Need for a New Way
Those who have attempted to address the vexing problems associated with commissioned recruitment deserve credit for professionalizing practice, mitigating risk, and adding a dose of transparency to an activity so often shrouded in secrecy. But efforts thus far have simultaneously served to normalize commissioned recruitment and stifle further discussion, which raises the obvious question: Is that a good thing for students? We don’t believe it is.
Capstone Vietnam, a full-service educational consulting company, implemented a unique approach that clearly recognizes students and parents as the primary clients in the educational advising process. Advisers do not pressure students to attend partner schools simply because they pay a per head commission. Rather, they create a list of best fit schools based on student and parent interests, goals, preferences, and budget. If a student ends up attending a commission-paying partner school, the advising fee is refunded to the parents. If s/he attends a non-partner institution, the company retains the advising fee.
While this approach makes sense from an ethical and financial perspective, are there other agency-based recruitment models that also do a good, and perhaps even better, job of ensuring that students and their families are well-served, by better aligning their interests with those of agents?
Imagine a scenario where, instead of an agency netting different commission payouts based on which school or program a student enrolls in – the prevailing, ethically fraught industry standard – the agency commits to earning a fixed, predetermined amount of money, regardless of which institution the student attends.
Let’s say for example that amount is $1,000 for assisting a student who wishes to attend a US community college. The agency explains to students, families and prospective partner colleges alike that $1,000 is their set fee for helping a student apply and enroll. The student will pay the agency a $1,000 advising fee if they end up attending a community college that isn’t one of the agency’s partners, as with the Capstone model.
On the other hand, if the student enrolls at one of the agency’s partner community colleges and that partner’s standard commission is $1,000, then the agency receives their $1,000 payment directly from the college. In this case, the family receives a refund of the fee they’ve already paid, also an example of the Capstone model.
Of course, this is an oversimplification. It’s the nature of international student recruitment for institutions and agencies alike to seek competitive advantage. Schools routinely pay more, or less, than $1,000 per student enrollment. They and their agency partners require autonomy with respect to commissions decisions. With this model, they still have it.
Community colleges that wish to pay, say, $1,500 per enrollment can do so, but here’s the rub: the agency will retain their set $1,000 fee, and the excess $500 is given to the student. The same logic applies no matter the amount above $1,000.
Conversely, if the college pays less than $1,000, the student pays the difference. For example: the college pays $600 per enrollment, in which case the family pays $400 as a service fee. Think of this scenario as ethical double dipping.
This model eliminates the financial secrecy inherent in commissioned recruitment as it’s practiced today, because the agency’s earnings for helping a given student are transparent. It also eliminates the incentive for agents to steer students to poor fit environments on the basis of profitable hidden commission payments, the fundamental flaw with current practice. The agency earns the same amount no matter where the student enrolls.
It also preserves an institution’s autonomy to incentivize outcomes to the extent they wish. Except, instead of the agent pocketing an entire commission payout, any additional financial benefit accrues directly to students. Think of this as akin to the widespread practice of tuition discounting, often packaged as merit scholarships.
We don’t presume this model is immune to criticism. As the saying goes, the devil is in the details. Established agencies may resist change to the status quo because the tradition of secret, variable commissions has proven so lucrative for them. Others will point out that it can take considerably more time to assist a student with a graduate school application than it does for short-term ESL study, for example, so charging a uniform fee across the board may not be practical.
But such problems and the fees to be charged can be solved by experimentation in the marketplace. What agencies might sacrifice in this shift toward greater transparency may well be compensated with an increase in business. After all, it stands to reason that families will gravitate towards agencies committed to fair practice and who also help them obtain a tuition discount as a bonus.
Meanwhile, institutions that support this approach can recruit fairly, transparently, and without the burden of reputational taint that dogs traditional commissioned-based recruitment, of which the MSCHE news is only the latest – and surely not the last – reminder. The ideal end result is a triple win for students and parents, educational institutions, and education agents.
Mark A. Ashwill, Ph.D. is managing director of Capstone Vietnam, a full-service educational consulting company with offices in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) in Viet Nam. Capstone is the only company in Viet Nam, and possibly the world, that works exclusively with regionally accredited colleges and universities in the United States, and officially accredited institutions in other countries. Its unique approach to educational advising treats students and parents as clients, not partner institutions. He blogs at An International Educator in Viet Nam.
Eddie West is Executive Director of International Programs at UC Berkeley Extension. Previously, he served as Director of International Initiatives at the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC), and before that led internationalization activities for the Ohlone Community College District.
Shalom (שלום), MAA