Dropping national and local rates of international students that apply to U.S. colleges may reflect the difficulties these students go through to come here.
Factors like demand, international economic fluctuations and increasing competition for international students in other countries are largely the cause behind the recent decline of international applications to Oregon State University and other universities across the U.S. according to Grace Atebe, director of the Office of International Services. The increasingly intricate admissions and immigration processes also may be discouraging international students from applying. International students face daunting systems at every turn, from admissions, to school, to working in the U.S. after graduation. The requirements for these students also hold serious consequences for those who slip up. To help these students, OSU has established multiple programs and groups to work with and guide them during their time here.
The National Foundation for American Policy analyzed data by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and found that since 2016, there has been a dip in international students applying to US colleges by 4 percent. OSU itself has experienced a 3 percent drop.
One example of how political policies can make studying in America even more difficult for prospective international students came in 2018 when Stephen Miller, political adviser to Donald Trump, suggested Chinese international students shouldn’t be given visas to defend against spy activity. Ultimately, restrictions were only tightened. While the change may have not been as drastic as anticipated, these changes impact international students.
Moreover, as Atebe explained, there’s rising competition for international students as universities in countries like Canada and Europe grow in popularity.
After admission, international students must complete multiple additional hurdles. The process is so long that OSU suggests international students reserve a minimum of two to three months to complete it. The legal criteria requires students to go to their embassy, provide documentation that they have sufficient funding, complete interviews demonstrating why they need to study abroad, turn in paperwork to receive a certificate of eligibility, obtain a visa and many other steps. All of these additional hurdles to jump over is making the experience even more challenging for international students.
Chuan Hao, a second-year international student from Singapore studying chemical engineering, ran into many tedious inconveniences while trying to get a visa.
“I had to go to multiple places before I could complete the process,” Hao said. “Having to pay for different documents at different places made it kind of inconvenient. There were some parts of the applications that weren’t very clear and I had to clarify by calling the embassy.”
Atebe said the process requires constant maintenance by mainly the student, with the aid of their adviser and other staff at the International Services office, due to regularly changing government policies affecting the already challenging process.
“Every time you look up there’s a clock ticking,” Atebe said, “There is little to no room for error.”
According to Atebe, messing up any part of the immigration process could result in harsh penalties, such as being banned from the U.S. for up to 10 years.
“Overstaying your visa isn’t as simple as you can go back home and re-enter to correct your status. Federal Penalties seem to be more and more severe and looked into each day,” Atebe said.
The hoops international students have to jump through never seem to stop coming during their time in the US. To combat this, OSU offers services to aid these students. The aforementioned International Student Scholars Services aids international students in many different ways.
Additionally, the INTO program helped Hao’s transition into the US education system.
“I went through an international student program called INTO which made the processes much easier as I did not have to take SATS and could apply directly to the school. INTO had agents that helped me compile the necessary documents and submitted them for me which helped with the application process,” Hao said.
Cassady Gilroy, office manager at OSU Diversity and Cultural Engagement, said there are many resources available to international students at OSU, including the International Student Advisory Board.
“The International Student Advisory Board is an open forum for all students and student groups with a relevance to the international student experience at OSU. It is a time to get to know each other, share resources and best practices and to share feedback from the various populations of students at OSU. While the board itself does not put on events outside of these gatherings, it is hosted by departments such as INTO OSU, Office of International Services and Global Opportunities,” he said via email.
According to Atebe, there’s a misconception that most international students want to migrate and stay in the U.S. to work after graduation, creating competition in the job market. She said students study internationally for many different reasons, such as for experiential learning, to acquire a high quality of U.S. degree and be more attractive to employers or because they may have been sponsored by a company to study abroad and then return home after graduation to work for the sponsoring company.
Hao said how he would take advantage of a job opportunity in the US if given the chance, but he also sees the benefits to returning home.
“If I can get an internship or secure a job I would work in the US for a couple of years before I head back. If not, I would just head back home because I miss friends and family. The US is really big and having to make new friends all the time can be exhausting, where as back home, everyone lives very close together and you can always see your friends and family anytime you want,” Hao said.
Although attending school internationally can be difficult and there has been a drop in international applications, OSU’s international students continue to work through the elaborate processes with the aid of programs on campus. According to Atebe, the drop is only part of a small fluctuation and will pass as OSU continues to support and guide international students.