WASHINGTON – University President Dan Mote testified before a congressional education committee yesterday, recommending ways to improve access for international graduate students as enrollment declines nationwide for the second consecutive year.
This is Mote’s second time testifying in Washington regarding international students since increased global competition and post-Sept. 11 delays in processing visa applications caused a nationwide drop in graduate school applications from abroad. Mote testified in October before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, where he acted as a voice for higher education institutions nationwide and made the issue one of the university’s main concerns.
Representatives from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the State Department and the Government Accountability Office also testified in front of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, updating it on how each department is trying to alleviate this growing trend.
Mote played a key role in the testimonials, representing the concerns of universities and colleges that are heavily impacted by the decrease in foreign students.
“Most of the changes, if not the overwhelming majority of them, have been made by talking to universities because they have to deal with this,” said Victor Cerda, counsel to the assistant secretary of the DHS Immigration and Customs Enforcement. “Since it’s going to Congress, I think it’s very important to hear what [Mote] has to say.”
Mote recommended the government extend visa durations and allow multiple entries on the same visa, citing university students who left the United States to go to their home countries for winter vacation. Because of strict visa policies and complications, the students couldn’t return until after the spring semester started.
“There’s a certain fear of not being able to return at all,” Mote said.
The United States must work to dispel the growing perception that foreigners aren’t welcome anymore, Mote said — a perception that is partially the nation’s fault.
In his October testimony, Mote recommended the “Visas Mantis Clearance” — a special clearance for scholars, scientists and engineers — be extended from two years to three or four, more accurately reflecting the duration of a student’s study.
The committee will consider Mote’s recommendations and decide which ones it should push to implement. Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) said foreign students have a major impact on the nation.
“The consequences and decisions made on the issues we’re talking about here are going to have very long-term consequences on this country,” Van Hollen said.
International students account for $13 billion in revenue each year, contributing to the United States through their expertise in research and national security, according to Stephen Edson, managing director of the Office of Visa Services in the Consular Affairs Bureau. At this university, a large part of the students and faculty are foreign-born: 101 of the 193 tenured and tenured-track faculty in the college of engineering are foreign-born. In the same school, 52 percent of the graduate students are foreign-born and 45 percent of science graduate students are foreign-born.
Representatives from the DHS, GAO and State Department said their respective departments have improved when it comes to streamlining processes for foreign students. However, data from the Council of Graduate Schools show differently: The number of applicants has dropped for the second consecutive year, falling 28 percent last year and an additional 5 percent this year nationally, according to a council report. The university saw a 37 percent drop last year and 5 percent this year.
“The whole trend of graduate education is really dire for our technical enterprise. … We’re in tough shape and certainly our economy and our way of life is in tough shape,” Mote said. “We’re in a competitive fight here and corporate America is not going to save us.”