Welcoming Foreign Students to U.S. Institutions is Vital to American Public Policy

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2016 U.S. Presidential Election Issue Brief

November 2015

The United States must foster policies and practices that welcome international students to our institutions of higher education. International students are vital to U.S. diplomacy and national security, provide substantial economic benefits, foster our own future global competitiveness, and contribute to innovation and growth at colleges and universities.

Policy Recommendations for the 2016 Presidential Candidates

Foreign Students are Critical to Diplomatic and National Security Efforts

Welcoming international students to the United States strengthens our diplomatic ties with countries across the globe and is integral to foreign policy. Foreign students and scholars who have studied in the United States become, at a minimum, informal ambassadors when they return home, sharing an appreciation for common values, counteracting stereotypes about the U.S. and enhancing respect for cultural differences. In some cases, future U.S. and foreign leaders will have studied together, creating even more direct diplomatic ties.  

Foreign Students Provide Economic Benefits to the United States

Foreign students contribute to the economic well-being of the United States. According to NAFSA: Association of International Educators, during the 2014-2015 academic year, international students and their families supported 373,000 jobs and contributed $30.5 billion to the U.S. economy, helping to offset trade deficits.

Moreover, foreign students offer U.S. students the opportunity to understand and navigate different cultures. The ability to perform and compete globally is important to a 21st Century education. Since less than 2% of U.S. students study abroad each year, having international students on U.S. campuses can better prepare students to succeed as global citizens.

Foreign Students Improve United States Academic Institutions

Foreign students are attracted to the United States due to the extremely high quality of U.S. institutions. At the same time, foreign students ensure the growth and sustainability of many programs. Foreign students’ enrollment in under-enrolled courses often makes it possible for a school to offer those courses—often in STEM subjects—to U.S. students, while simultaneously increasing innovation in many fields. And since the majority of undergraduate foreign students pay full tuition at U.S. institutions, they may compensate for budget deficits, especially at state schools facing shortfalls in funding from state governments.

Only Foreign Students are Monitored

Because international students are the only nonimmigrant visitors the U.S. tracks, the risk that someone will use a student visa to enter the U.S. for illegal or illegitimate purposes and go undetected is less than any other nonimmigrant visitor. In 2013, 97% of the 61 million people who entered the U.S. on nonimmigrant visas were unmonitored. In contrast, the U.S. government collects data on international students’ enrollment, registration, addresses, academic programs, degree completion and immigration status violations, and that is in addition to the hurdles students must overcome when acquiring a student visa.

According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, the United States’ share of international students is decreasing as other countries recognize the value of attracting students from outside their borders. The U.S. should welcome foreign students, or risk our national security and economic interests while depriving U.S. students and institutions of the diverse and enriching contributions international students bring to our campuses.


Lisa E. Rosenberg, Senior Director of Public Policy - 202.737.3699 x2506; lisar@nafsa.org