OESTERLE: Student visas plummet under Trump policies

March 23, 2018

Occasionally, I run into news stories that seem very important, but don’t seem to be generating much actual news at all. Let me point to an article that appeared in a recent Wall Street Journal on page A3. “Foreign-Student Visas Drop” describes the effect of new Trump administration policies on student visas. I have seen this topic covered only lightly, and I have not yet seen its big impact on Indiana covered at all.

The article is pretty dry stuff until you get down to the fourth paragraph. There, it states that student visas dropped 17 percent in 2017 and 40 percent since 2015.

Forty percent.

As if that number weren’t jolting enough, the authors point out that Indian student visas declined 28 percent in 2017 and Chinese student visas declined 24 percent.

While the numbers themselves are pretty disturbing, the details of the visa-policy changes at the State Department are worse. According to The Wall Street Journal, the State Department has placed additional emphasis on checking that foreign students “plan to actually return home after graduation.”

In other words, the talented kids who are qualified and would like to apply those qualifications in the United States are told to stay home, while the kids who want to learn all they can and take it back to their country are given visas.

This is crazy.

It is also completely counter to the merit-based immigration policies the administration keeps pushing. And it’s interesting to note that the Chinese are simultaneously recognizing the importance of this talent and are working harder to keep it in China.

Here in Indiana, we should be particularly alarmed about this development. The state is well-known for its world-class colleges and universities.

The fact that they have so much capacity is less well known. International students fill much of that capacity, improving the cost structure and the overall academic environment.

Our problem is that, of the graduates we produce, too few have historically stayed in the state. Over the past five or six years, the state, its colleges and universities, civic organizations, economic development entities and just about everyone else have begun to focus on the pool of college talent that is educated here. These efforts have begun to show promise, but they are still in their very early stages.

Further, Indiana’s colleges have an excellent reputation in India and China. The kids that we get from those two countries are some of the best in the world. Just having them here for four years is full of benefits. Imagine the benefits if we get them to stay here.

Unfortunately, the Trump administration is pursuing a policy precisely opposed to the objectives the state is trying to accomplish.

Screening visas for students who “actually intend to return home” has two negative impacts:

First, the total number of visa applications and issuances drops.

Second, the visas that are issued go to precisely the wrong people.

For more than 100 years, U.S. colleges have been the most powerful attractor of long-term talent the world has ever known. We must not lose this advantage.•


Oesterle is the CEO at Tmap LLC. He managed Republican Mitch Daniels first run for governor. Send comments to ibjedit@ibj.com.

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