Keeping the Doors Open to International Students

The Institute of International Education (IIE) recently released new Open Doors data showing that the number of international students coming to the United States had jumped by 10 per cent to total almost 1 million students from more than 200 countries.

In a powerful commentary piece in Times Higher Education, Keeping the Doors Open to International Students, Rajika Bhandari, IIE’s Deputy VP for Research and evaluation, noted that “the release of this much-awaited annual data was tragically book-ended by the terrorist attacks in Paris and by statements from several governors in the U.S. declaring that they would close the doors of their states to Syrian refugees because one of the Paris attackers posed as a refugee.”

She writes:

This short-sighted reaction is a sad reminder of what happened in the U.S. after 11 September 2001, when one of the 19 terrorists had entered the U.S. on an F-1 student visa.

Even before 9/11, there had been calls to tighten the screening and monitoring of America’s 583,000 international students, but their positive benefits to the U.S. had never been seriously questioned. As the U.S. government responded speedily by putting in place more rigorous checks and somewhat lengthier processes to carefully vet and monitor all potential foreign students, the numbers of such students initially dropped slightly. There were calls for a “pause” in the approval of incoming students, but wisdom prevailed and international students continued to be welcomed to American states and campuses.

If state governors back then had closed their academic doors to international students because of a misplaced fear that all international students were potential terrorists, then the very fabric of U.S. higher education would have been radically altered from the globally competitive, world-class higher education system that we know today.

Read Rajika’s complete essay in Times Higher Education, outlining the positive impact that hosting international students has on our nation and our world, and what might have happened if the U.S. had ceased to welcome international students to its shores.

Follow Times Higher Education (@TimesHigherEd) for global higher education news, comment and in-depth features, and for its annual Times Higher Education World University Rankings.

Visit the Open Doors website for more information on students in the United States and U.S. students studying abroad. This year’s report found that the number of international students at U.S. colleges and universities had the highest rate of growth in 35 years, increasing by ten percent to a record high of 974,926 students in the 2014/15 academic year. The report also found the number of U.S. students studying abroad increased by five percent in 2013/14, the highest rate of growth since before the 2008 economic downturn. While study abroad by American students has more than tripled in the last two decades, reaching a new high of 304,467, still only about 10 percent of U.S. students study abroad before graduating from college. The Open Doors® report is published annually by the Institute of International Education in partnership with the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.