“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

 

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

 

 

 

Trump is not deterring Vietnamese from studying in US

Here are the introduction and conclusion to my latest (7.7.17) University World News article about the possible impact of political changes in the US, in particular, on young Vietnamese studying overseas.  It includes links to recent articles.  If these excerpts whet your appetite for more, follow this link to read the article in its entirety. 

MAA

INTRODUCTION

photo_4856Vietnam remains a hot country for United States colleges, universities, boarding and day schools interested in international student recruitment. Just as its economy has managed to weather the global storm of the past few years, Vietnamese young people continue to study abroad in large numbers, undeterred by Brexit, the 2016 US presidential election and other cataclysmic, potentially game-changing socio-political events.

In fact, the US is the world’s second-leading host of Vietnamese students – after Japan – with over 30,000 at all levels, mainly in higher education, according to the latest (June 2017) SEVIS by the Numbers quarterly update. However, Japan and the US are an apples and oranges comparison since the latter offers mostly short-term, vocational programmes.

Vietnam displaced Canada as the fifth-leading sending country to the US in March 2017, a position it continues to hold in the latest update.

CONCLUDING THOUGHTS

Vietnam is defying the odds, as it has in so many respects in the recent past and throughout its long, tumultuous and inspirational history.

The articles above show why US institutions should make Vietnam a priority country for international student recruitment and why they should develop or fine-tune an ethical recruitment strategy in what has become a fiercely competitive market, not only among US institutions but with those coming from countries that have recently discovered Vietnam as a potentially promising recruitment market.

While the recruiting wave will eventually break because of demographic and development-related factors, such as aging of the population and an improvement in the quality of the domestic higher education system for example, demand for overseas study will continue to gain momentum for now, barring unforeseen political and economic factors.

US Mission Viet Nam Response to Open Letter to Vietnamese Parents & Students

Below is a response I received from Molly Stephenson, Counselor for Public Affairs, US Embassy, and Matthew Wall, Public Affairs Officer, US Consulate General, in response to an “open letter” I wrote last December to Vietnamese parents and students who may be concerned about the outcome of the US presidential election.  Reprinted with permission.

This takes on added importance in light of Trump’s immigration ban that targets seven (7) predominantly Muslim countries.  My article was written for Vietnamese parents and students with an interest in study in the USA but my sentiments apply to all current and prospective US-bound international students.

Follow this link to read the English and Vietnamese versions, published by University World News and Hotcourses Vietnam, respectively.

MAA


Dear Dr. Ashwill,

The U.S. Ambassador and the U.S. Consul General asked us to respond on their behalf.

We appreciate your efforts to reassure Vietnamese families that the doors to U.S. higher education remain wide open.  This is an important message, and your post compliments and amplifies U.S. Mission Vietnam’s messaging on this topic.  We also note that the specific themes you raise in your University World News posting echo the views of the many American university leaders who have met with us since our presidential election.

We sincerely hope that the Open Doors data from Vietnam continues to climb.  We agree, as you state, that U.S. higher education institutions “strive to create and maintain an inclusive, nurturing and diverse environment in which international and U.S. students can learn, work and play together with lasting mutual benefits.”

Thanks again for your contribution to deepening people-to-people ties between Vietnam and the United States — one student at a time.

Molly L. Stephenson
Counselor for Public Affairs
U.S. Embassy Hanoi

and

Matthew E. Wall
Public Affairs Officer
U.S. Consulate General, Ho Chi Minh City

Latest Executive Order Undermines America’s Safety & Values (NAFSA)

To the students, scholars, doctors, refugees, family members and others who wonder if the United States has lost its commitment to its core values as a nation of freedom, opportunity and welcome, let me unequivocally state that American citizens will not tolerate policies such as these that undermine our values and endanger our safety. We understand that America is part of the global community, and we will raise our voices with Congress, with the White House, with the media and in our communities to continue to adhere to the principles that have always made us strongest.

nafsaI was very pleased and heartened to see this statement from Esther Brimmer, Executive Director and CEO of NAFSA: Association of International Educators, about Donald Trump’s executive order banning US entry of “thoroughly-vetted refugees and citizens of seven nations in the Middle East and Africa, undermining the nation’s long-held values and making America less safe.”

In the past, NAFSA’s leadership has been hesitant to voice criticism of US government (USG) policies or actions not because the organization receives any funding from the USG but because of “relationship,” according to a reliable source.  This reflected the previous executive director’s/CEO’s management style.

For example, I don’t recall hearing an official peep from NAFSA after the US invaded and occupied Iraq based on the WMD lie.  In fact, NAFSA invited a senior State Department political appointee aka neocon to speak at its 2003 annual conference in Salt Lake City, Utah.  The gist of his speech was the one can no longer claim “to hate this government’s policies but love the country,” as if government and country were one.  I wrote a related radio commentary entitled Patriotism in Troubled Times that aired later that summer.  (It occurs to me that this applies to the current regime.  Just substitute government with president and administration.)

Follow this link to read the 30 January 2017 NAFSA press release in its entirety. Thanks to Esther Brimmer for speaking truth to power and saying what needs to be said in a forceful and eloquent manner.  The profession and the country need more people like her.

MAA

“The turn to nativism hinders international education”

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What the United States desperately needs is more patriots and global citizens (the two are not mutually exclusive) and fewer nationalists. The golden question is how to transform the latter into the former. Can this be accomplished through education and training, or are there other factors at play that make this impossible?

Here’s my latest University World News essay, a response to a number of articles there and elsewhere that confuse nationalism with nativism.  (Note:  The title was supplied by the editor.)

My main point is that nationalism in the US is nothing new, nor is there a connection between a rise in nationalism and the ascendancy of Donald Trump.

…I would argue that the ‘turn’ is not toward nationalism, which clearly predates Trump’s election, but toward nativism, the result of populist anger about the negative effects of globalisation.

Follow this link to read the article in its entirety.

MAA

“Welcome to the US, Vietnamese students”

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This is the title of a recent VNExpress International article for which I was interviewed.  Here is one of the key quotes: 

“Study in the U.S. is not for everyone, but if the U.S. is where you want to study, don’t let the result of a presidential election dissuade you from realizing your dream,” said Ashwill, managing director of Capstone Vietnam, a full-service educational consulting company with offices in Hanoi and HCMC.  

It contains a lot of good information about young Vietnamese studying in the US, including some facts and figures from a recent blog post Viet Nam Ranks 6th Among Countries Sending Students to the US

Follow this link to read the article in its entirety. 

MAA