Weekly Wonder: International student enrollment has been declining. COVID-19 may make it worse.

By Anoushka Dalmia
BU News Service

BOSTON – International student enrollment in U.S. colleges and universities has fallen in the last three years, according to data from the Institute of International Education. There has been speculation that the Trump administration may be to blame for this drop in enrollment. The insinuation isn’t entirely unfounded; international students have been facing visa issues in recent years.

The troubles can continue once students move to the country as well, as is the case for all international students regardless of work status.

One example is Sofia Ginard from Wellesley College, who filed her taxes with the U.S. government.

“It was missing one signature so they sent it all the way to my home address in Mexico instead of my residence here. It gets stressful and I’m not looking forward to it this year,” Ginard said.

On the other hand, the number of international students working in the country through Optional Practical Training has increased. The program allows international students to be temporarily employed in the country for up to 12 months after graduation. Certain STEM field graduates have up to 24 months.

While officials at the State Department have called the program a national selling point for international students, the Department of Homeland Security has proposed a revision of existing regulations for OPT through ICE, which is set to be ruled upon in August. OPT, or Optional Practical Training allows students to work for up to two years after graduation.

International students contributed $41 billion to the U.S economy and supported 458,290 jobs during the 2018-2019 academic year, as per a NAFSA analysis. In Massachusetts alone, their financial contribution was $3.2 billion.

NAFSA also said that for every seven international students, three U.S. jobs are created and supported by spending in sectors such as higher education, accommodation, dining, retail, transportation, telecommunications and health insurance.

Meanwhile, one of the multifaceted impacts of COVID-19 has been the cancellation of study abroad programs. March is the time when most college acceptance letters are sent out. The World Health Organization declared coronavirus a pandemic Tuesday and if the situation worsens, international student enrollment in 2020 could be affected.

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