Dramatic drop in F-1 visa student applications from India to the US, says survey

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NEW YORK: Student applications from India for a F-1 visa to study in the United States has recorded a sudden, dramatic decline with a survey of more than 250 American colleges and universities by six higher education groups in February showing 26 percent decline in undergraduate applications, and 15 percent decline in graduate applications.

The drop in applications from India is in line with the nearly 40 percent of US colleges who are seeing decline in applications from international students, according to the survey.

The survey was conducted by the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers, the Institute of International Education, NAFSA: Association of International Educators, the National Association for College Admission Counseling, and NACAC’s internationally focused subgroup, International ACAC. More than three-quarters of institutions responding to the survey — 77 percent — are concerned about yield, that is, how many applicants accept an admissions offer and enroll.

According to the survey, and a report in Inside Higher Ed, the decline in applications from India is attributed to several factors, including: India’s demonetization policy by prime Minister Narendra Modi – leading to concerns from students as how to pay tuition and boarding fees; worry about Trump administration’s protectionist stance on H-1B visas, and to regulate skilled immigration; and last, but not the least, the growing concern that hate crimes are on an upswing in the US, fueled by the repeated attacks on the Indian community, which has already seen the death of an Indian engineer on an H-1B visa, Srinivas Kuchibhotla, at a bar in Olathe, Kansas, last month.

It’s not just India who will be sending fewer students to the US this coming year.

A quarter of universities responding to the survey reported declines in undergraduate applications from China, and 32 percent reported declines in Chinese graduate applications.

China and India, respectively, are the top two countries from which international students in the U.S. hail. The two countries, together, account for nearly half of all international students in the U.S.

The survey was conducted in response to concerns among international educators “that the political discourse surrounding foreign nationals in the U.S. leading up to the November 2016 U.S. presidential election could be damaging to international student recruitment efforts,” according to a press release about the initial, top-line findings (a full report on the results, with more detail, is scheduled to be released at the end of the month).

Thirty-nine percent of the 250 American colleges and universities responding to the survey reported a decline in their total number of international applications across both the undergraduate and graduate levels. Another 35 percent reported an increase, and 26 percent reported no change.

The highest reported declines involved applications from the Middle East. Thirty-nine percent of universities reported declines in undergraduate applications from the Middle East, while 31 percent reported declines in graduate applications, reported Inside Higher Ed.

While President Donald Trump’s two travel bans have been blocked by judges, it remains to be seen what the repercussions would be this fall semester, if the m,atter goes all the way to the Supreme Court.

Universities reported hearing concerns from students and families, particularly those from the Middle East, Asia and Latin America. The press release about the findings notes that the most frequently cited concerns are:

“Perception of a rise in student visa denials at U.S. embassies and consulates in China, India and Nepal.”

“Perception that the climate in the U.S. is now less welcoming to individuals from other countries.”

“Concerns that benefits and restrictions around visas could change, especially around the ability to travel, re-entry after travel and employment opportunities.”

“Concerns that the executive order travel ban might expand to include additional countries.”

In interviews with Inside Higher Ed, enrollment managers and senior international officers said yield is what they’re watching. Many international students would have already submitted their applications to U.S. colleges prior to Trump’s assumption of the presidency and the imposition of his ban on entry for nationals of six Muslim-majority countries: Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.

Walter Caffey, vice president for enrollment management at the University of New Haven, said the institution is seeing an increase in international undergraduate applications, specifically from Brazil, China, India and Vietnam. At the graduate level, it’s seeing a decrease in applications from India, a decrease that Caffey said started a year ago “as we heard about more students having a difficult time obtaining visas to study here in the States.”

Portland State University reports a 27 percent drop in the number of Indian students applying to its graduate programs for the fall. Most of the Indian applicants to the university are looking to attend computer science or engineering programs.

Wim Wiewel, Portland State’s president, talked with prospective students during a previously scheduled trip to India this month. Throughout most of his meetings in Bangalore, Hyderabad and New Delhi, he didn’t hear much about Trump’s travel ban and the political climate in the U.S. more generally.

“But in a meeting in Hyderabad with about 10 students already admitted to our graduate engineering program it was different,” Wiewel said over email. According to Wiewel, one student, a Muslim, said his father ‘didn’t want him to go now because of America’s anti-Muslim attitude.’ Several of the others said they had ‘some concerns about the Trump effect.’ Once we talked about how welcoming Portland and the U.S. are, and that surely India has its own history of issues, they seemed to feel better. I’m pretty sure they just wanted to be reassured and will in fact come.”

“I’d say the rhetoric and actual executive orders are definitely having a chilling effect on decisions by current applicants/admitted students, and by extension are likely to affect future applicants as well,” Wiewel said. “However, we were struck by how much U.S. higher education is still considered the holy grail, and that especially in the southern half of India almost every middle class family seems to have a relative in the U.S. … Thus, if nothing too bad happens in the future we will recover from this, but people are watching.”

During his travels through India, Wiewel heard concerns from students about possible changes to the H-1B skilled worker visa program, which international students see as one of the few pathways to permanent work and residency in the U.S. At the same time, Wiewel said, Trump’s address to Congress in which he called for a “merit-based” immigration system got played up in the press as something that could help Indians.

John J. Wood, the senior associate vice provost for international education, at the State University of New York at Buffalo, said a lot of universities are concerned about declines in master’s students from India.

Wood added that the recent shooting of Indian nationals at a bar in Olathe, Kans., won’t help. The Federal Bureau of Investigation is investigating the shooting — which killed Srinivas Kuchibhotla, an Indian national, and wounded a second Indian man and an American — as a hate crime. The gunman reportedly yelled “get out of my country” before opening fire, according to The Washington Post. A Sikh man originally from India who was wounded in a separate shooting in Kent, Wash., a little more than a week later similarly reported that he was told by the shooter to “go back to your own country,” according to The Seattle Times.

The New York Times reported graduate schools appear to be feeling the worst pinch, with nearly half reporting drops.

“Our deans describe it as a chilling effect,” said Suzanne Ortega, president of the Council of Graduate Schools.

The numbers — while not yet final — are provoking anxiety in some programs that rely on international students, who bring more than $32 billion a year into the United States economy. International enrollment at American colleges has been on the rise over the past decade, and for the first time exceeded one million students last year.