Harvard foots bill to ease visa clearance

November 26, 2004

Harvard University has decided to pick up the $100 (£53)-a-head screening fee for international student visas, in a bid to spare individuals the burden of extra red tape.

Since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, visa restrictions have made it harder and more expensive to study in the US.

The move comes as US universities report a worrying decline in foreign enrolment for the first time in more than 30 years.

Lawrence Summers, Harvard's president, said that "international students are an essential part of the fabric" of US universities.

He insisted that for universities to continue to flourish, it was vital that "we continue to attract the very best students from the four corners of the world".

But the number of international students at US universities fell 2.4 per cent last year to 572,509, the first such decline since 1971, according to the Institute of International Education.

That follows a year of zero growth, reversing decades of robust increases before the tightened visa rules were implemented.

The number of foreign undergraduates fell 5 per cent last year, though that was partially offset by a 2.5 per cent increase in the number of international students enrolled at graduate level.

The Council of Graduate Schools, however, separately reports that this autumn overall international enrolments fell by 6 per cent.

Since most international students plan to pursue degrees over a number of years, the decrease is a harbinger of several years of lower enrolments, the report warns.

The report, compiled in collaboration with the US State Department, cites the real and perceived difficulty of obtaining student visas as the reason for the decrease, especially in technical fields and the sciences.

Rising US university tuition fees are also blamed, along with competition from universities in other English-speaking countries, and a feeling abroad that international students face a hostile reception in the US.

Patricia Harrison, Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs, called the reversal "temporary".

She said the drop off was, in part, an outgrowth of "the need to make sure our borders are secure. But I am confident that both the situation and the numbers will improve".

The number of student visas issued between January and June of this year increased by 11 per cent compared with the same period last year, Ms Harrison said.

Harvard will pay the $100 fee for its international students beginning on September 1. Professor Summers also asked the Government to streamline the visa process.

The number of students coming to the US from the Middle East has plummeted.

There was a decline of 16 per cent in the number of students in the US from Saudi Arabia. The number of Kuwaitis fell 17 per cent, Jordanians 15 per cent and students from the United Arab Emirates 30 per cent.

The flow from Asia also slowed. The number of students from China fell by 5 per cent; from Japan, 11 per cent; from Taiwan, 7 per cent; from Thailand, about 11 per cent; from Hong Kong, 9 per cent; and from Pakistan, 10 per cent.

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