Min Haung, a Rackham student from China, had reservations about applying for her student visa, having been told visa officials always make things difficult for students. But ultimately, she received her visa relatively easily. Like Haung, many international students at the University say they have had little trouble getting a visa.
“In fact, the visa was not a problem for me at all,” said Deepak Goel, an Engineering freshman from India. “I just went there, filled out the forms and submitted the application fees and met with the interviewer. There was no problem at all.”
In a press release, the Institute of International Education cited yesterday the ease of the visa application process as a possible reason the decline in international student enrollment seems to be leveling off.
The IIE released the 2005 Open Doors Report yesterday, a study conducted by the IIE and the U.S Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. The survey reported that total international student enrollment for 2004-05 is 565,039, about a 1 percent decline nationwide since last year. Comparatively, this figure is a slight improvement considering last year’s 2.4 percent drop.
Additionally, a report released last week by the Council of Graduate Schools found a 1 percent increase in first-time international graduate student enrollment.
Officials cite several factors for the recent enrollment patterns. After the Sept. 11 terror attacks, international enrollment fell in response to tightened security and competition from countries, like Australia, the United Kingdom and Canada, looking to attract students with lower costs and reduced paperwork.
“I can understand why students may be diverted away (to Australia, the United Kingdom or Canada),” said Arsalan Ahmed, an Engineering sophomore from the United Arab Emirates. “There is not a safety risk and it is comparably cheaper, but the question you have to ask is, ‘Do these places have the opportunity that the U.S. does?'”
To compete for top international students, the State Department and U.S. universities have been trying to overcome misconceptions about the visa application process.
The State Department has worked to streamline the visa process in the past few years to “let international students know that our welcome mat is out,” said Laura Tischler, spokeswoman for the Bureau of Consular Affairs at the State Department.
“For the last two years, we have instructed all of our overseas posts to give priority to students and exchange visitors,” Tischler said in an e-mail. “It is important to understand that although there have been changes in the ways in which visas are processed, the eligibility requirements have not changed,” she added.
The vast majority of visa applications, about 75 percent, are now processed within one or two days, said Adam Meier, spokesman for the State Department’s Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs.
Meier also emphasized the ability of the recruiting efforts of individual colleges and deans to influence national trends.
The University maintained its 2004 ranking of seventh in total international student enrollment, hosting 4,632 students. The University of Southern California ranked first for the fourth consecutive year, with 6,846 students.
Nationwide, India continues to send the most students abroad; reporting 80,000 students in 2004-05. China, Korea, Japan and Canada were in the top five and account for nearly half of the international student body. Enrollment totals for students from Asia rose slightly overall, while the Middle East, Europe, Africa and Latin America all experienced declines.
The survey also reported that business and management is the most popular field of study for international students, with 18 percent pursuing a degree in this field, followed by engineering with 16.5 percent and mathematics and computer sciences with 9 percent. These data reflect student sentiments at the University.
“I’m looking forward to making good business connections, which will help me in the later stages of my life,” Goel said. “That’s why I’m here, because the level of (undergraduate) education is really no greater here (than in India) in terms of coursework,” he added.
In addition to the University’s continued high rankings among business schools, the University’s commitment to research and diversity also attracts many international students.
“Two things struck me right away on joining the University of Michigan – the respect for diversity and the very high quality of the graduate student body on this campus,” said Amit Ahuja, a Rackham student from India.
The presence of international students on U.S. campuses enhances students’ exposure to different cultures and perspectives and has a substantial economic impact, said Rodolfo Altamirano, director of the University’s International Center.
Through tuition and living expenses, international students contributed an estimated $13.3 billion dollars to the U.S. economy in the 2004-05 academic year, according to the National Association of Foreign Student Advisers: Association of International Educators. Seventy-two percent of international students fund their education from sources outside the United States, mostly from personal funds.
Given the added financial burden and sense of isolation international students face, University programs and resources like the International Center and individual departments strive to make students feel welcome.
“Basically, the quality of these programs and services is top notch,” Ahuja said. “Working and living away from home for so many years has not been a small challenge, but the University programs have made a significant difference to the quality of my life on this campus.”