“International education ‘number one priority’ for US bureau”

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At the February IIE Summit 2019, Marie Royce, Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA), US State Department, told her audience that international education is the #1 priority for ECA.  Her deputy, Caroline Casagrande, confirmed that “additional resources” have been obtained to promote outbound and inbound study abroad.  What “additional resources,” I wonder? 

In terms of inbound students, I’m afraid the horse has left the barn and that whatever support the US State Department has to offer is too little, too late.  The elephant in the room of the IIE Summit was, of course, Donald Trump and MAGA, who really don’t care about international students, at best.  Naturally, no one at IIE can say that because one of the golden rules in the NGO world is “don’t bite the hand that feeds you.”  Since IIE received 78.2% of its 2017 revenue from “government grants,” that’s a lot of food!  (That percentage was once heading south in the interest of diversification, i.e., don’t put too many of your budgetary eggs in one basket – to the credit of IIE – but I guess some things are not meant to be.)  

In fact, the view of the vocal nativist minority may shift from not caring to wanting to fewer international students to study in the US following in the footsteps of a recent survey in Australia in which 54% of the respondents, admittedly barely a simple majority, thought that international student numbers should not be increased.  

If international education is going to be the “number one priority” for the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA), it is probably in word only.  As usual, US educational institutions are on their own and, in fact, are saddled with the additional burden of having to work against the negatives that have piled up during the Trump administration in- and outside the Beltway.  

Following a point/counterpoint format, here are some additional observations:

“We face growing international competition to attract the world’s globally mobile students. While we are already making great strides to respond to these new challenges, we must step up our game.”  What are the “great strides” ECA is making, pray tell?

“At ECA our goals are clear,” said Royce, underlining that US government is committed to both outbound and inbound exchanges – and explaining that president Donald Trump began penning letters to all US Department of State exchange participants in 2018.  A symbolic act that, in Trump’s case, only means he likes to see his name appear in as many documents as possible.

ECA also “actively supports” America’s competitive education advantage through its Education USA network, which operates in 180 countries, with 435 centres and 550 advisors to promote American colleges and universities abroad, she reminded.  While EducationUSA is useful, it is hardly a competitive advantage.  On a related issue, I hope ECA thinks long and hard about its decision to work with education agents, embraced by the pro-agent crowd but not by EducationUSA in the field.    

However, cost is a “leading reason that students decide not to pursue US study” Royce said, and ECA “wants to raise awareness abroad that there are study options at many price points”.  Cost is one of many factors contributing to the steady decline of international students choosing the USA as an overseas study destination.  Others include gun violence, the widespread perception that the US is not as open and welcoming as it once was and, in the case of countries, Trump himself, who has insulted a long and growing list of peoples and countries.    

The fact that IIE awarded ECA the first centennial medal is yet another example of that organization kissing the hand that feeds, given how much of IIE’s budget still comes from the US State Department.  

Finally, as with the rhetorical open arms embrace of education agents, announced by the same two ECA political appointees last December, we’ll have to wait and see if they’re planning to walk the walk.  If so, what will the impact be, if any?  I won’t hold my breath.  The latest is that EducationUSA may provide training to education agents.  That could be a good thing if it’s done in the right way and agents are probibited from using text or images from such events in an attempt at honor by association.  As mentioned in a recent co-authored article, the devil is in the details.  

Postscript:  Meanwhile, on the other side of the pond, the UK government has published a new International Education Strategy that outlines “plans to increase students numbers and income generated from international education.”  While I’d prefer less emphasis be placed on the revenue benefit of hosting large numbers of international students, I understand that’s the key selling point for most policymakers.  Having said that, the UK and other governments that value international students have something that the US government does not currently have – a STRATEGY.  

Shalom (שלום), MAA

 

Water Torture, DC-Style

While the US president lurches from one shit storm to the next, his mouth a fount of filth and lies, his mind a roiling cauldron of chaos, and The White House in a perennial state of (crazy) crisis, there are some nameless yet busy little beavers working in the trenches of the vast federal bureaucracy in DC carrying out the Supreme Leader’s anti-foreign, anti-international, anti-US MAGA agenda with a vengeance.  

The policy proposals trickling out of US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), part of the Department of Homeland Security, remind me of water torture – not to be confused with waterboarding, made (more) infamous by the Bush/Cheney administration.  The former is a form of torture in which the victim is exposed to the incessant dripping of water on the head or to the sound of dripping.   

Are those heartfelt expressions of gratitude I hear coming from other countries that host large numbers of Vietnamese and other international students?  Canada says THANK YOU, Australia says THANK YOU, etc., ad nauseam.  Sadly, I don’t see anyone or any entity with any appreciable influence jamming their transmission.  DC continues to burn and no one’s called 911 yet.  (Maybe the new Congress in 2019?)

Here are the latest proposed changes:  

  1. Fixed Maximum Terms for Student Visas
  2. Proposed Change to Public Charge Ground of Inadmissibility

What’s next, eliminate the Optional Practical Training (OPT) program because it takes jobs away from ‘Muricans? Shut down the H1B work visa program for the same reason?  While they’re at it, why not just throw the baby out with the bathwater and shove a dagger in the heart of the EB-5 program, which has brought in billions of dollars in low-interest money for a variety of construction projects?  

Each proposal, some more damaging than others, creates yet another disincentive to study in the US or even visit the country as a tourist or businessperson, not to mention other “negatives” like the latest mass shooting du jour.  Each that relates somehow to the F-1 is just more chipping away at the edifice that is study in the USA.  It reminds me of the expression No matter how bad things are, they can always get worse.   

The fat lady hasn’t sung yet – not by a long shot.  Look forward to more drip, drip, drip, drip.  Sorry I don’t have more upbeat news to share with you, dear reader, but the truth trumps spin any day of the week and twice on Sunday.  

Shalom (שלום), MAA

US Visa Overstays: Is the Sky Falling?

uscis_logo-white-backgroundThe 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).  

China: 1.47%
India: 2.22%
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.)
Brazil: 3.33%
Taiwan: .87%
Japan: 1.28%
Nigeria: 23.49%

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