Visa restrictions dampen overseas enthusiasm

November 7, 2003

Five years of steady growth in the number of international students attending universities in the US has come to an abrupt halt, writes Jon Marcus in Boston.

The number rose barely 1 per cent this year after increasing an average of 5 per cent in each of the previous five years, the Institute of International Education and the US State Department announced on Monday.

International exchange officials said the levelling-off was a result of tougher visa procedures instituted after the September 11 2001 terrorist attacks. Despite government denials that they are being targeted, the restrictions seem to have especially affected students from Islamic countries.

The number of students coming from Saudi Arabia and Kuwait was down 25 per cent, from the United Arab Emirates 15 per cent, from Malaysia 11 per cent and from Indonesia 10 per cent.

The number of students from Thailand fell 14 per cent.

Nearly 600,000 international students are attending US universities this year.

For the second year in a row, the nation that sent the largest single number of students to America was India, with about 75,000. China contributed 64,757 and Korea 51,519.

A separate survey of international exchange officials at US universities found that most blame new visa application procedures for discouraging overseas students. Other factors cited were financial difficulties and increased competition from countries, including the UK.

US officials tried to put a positive spin on the developments. "Despite these difficulties, the US remains the premier destination for foreign students. At the national, state and campus level, we need to take concerted action to ensure that we retain that position," said Allan Goodman, IIE president

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