This is the time of year when all students, including international students, must commit to their college or university of choice for the fall. For international students, they are deciding whether to come to a school in the United States or study in a country with more welcoming policies and rhetoric.

In 2017, we saw a 6.6% decline in new international student enrollment in the United States, which is double the decrease from the previous year. This is the biggest drop in enrollment since 9/11. Other countries, like China and Canada, have proactive immigration policies and marketing strategies to attract international students and scholars. While we face a decline, these countries are experiencing double-digit growth in international students.

Countering the harsh narrative and the policies about immigrants can help prospective students and scholars feel welcomed and wanted as international visitors and can make the United States a more desirable option again. During NAFSA’s Advocacy Day in March, international educators met with staff working for their members of Congress, and asked them to speak out for international students and show their support for a more welcoming and globally engaged United States.

Some of those advocates kept the conversation going with their new congressional contacts, making repeated requests and sharing stories demonstrating the importance of international students and scholars to their campuses and their communities. This resulted in a series of tweets and floor statements from both sides of the aisle that can help reassure our students, scholars, and colleagues that the United States still values them.

Our thanks also go out to these three members of Congress that submitted official statements for the record that reflect their commitment to making international students and scholars feel welcome:

Our thanks also go out to this bipartisan group of 14 Senators and Representatives who tweeted about the value of international students:

This is double the number of tweets we saw last year after Advocacy Day. In addition to these 15 tweets from members of Congress on April 3, advocates, higher education institutions, university presidents, and partner organizations sent over 250 original tweets. Counting retweets, this number jumped above 1,000! This is our largest tweetstorm to date! To date, more than 75 members of Congress have publicly spoken out in support of international students and scholars. I should also note our thanks to Representative Eliot Engel, Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, who both tweeted and submitted a floor statement.

As these tweets and statements note, international students and scholars contributed $39 billion to the U.S. economy in the 2017-2018 academic year, supporting 455,622 jobs around the county despite making up only 5.5 percent of overall enrollment in U.S. higher education. These students bring countless academic and cultural benefits to U.S. communities as well, and efforts to discourage international visitors from coming to the United States will only hinder U.S. growth, innovation, and security.

We invite all members of Congress to share their support for international students and scholars and to support immigration policies that will allow the United States to once again be a welcoming option for international students. International educators can use this advocacy toolkit on Connecting Our World to request floor statements from their senators and representatives. By working together and continuing our advocacy, we can create a more welcoming, globally engaged and informed United States.

Katie O’Connell is director of advocacy and media outreach at NAFSA: Association of International Educators.