Competing for Global Talent Starts with Foreign Students
By James E. Root
Los Angeles, CA

Five years after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, US colleges and universities are fighting to reverse what some consider an alarming decline in foreign student enrollment. Despite a tightening of visa regulations in the months immediately following the attacks, foreign student enrollment actually increased in 2001, in part because of students who already had applied or enrolled, but since then numbers have steadily declined.
The United States has always remained open to talented people from around the world in order to stay competitive and retain an edge in technology, research and education. However, the status of the US as the preferred destination for foreign students and scholars has declined in recent years. As global competition for professionals and high-tech workers, doctors and nurses, and university students and researchers increases, it’s important for the US to recognize its historical openness to foreign students.
Since American students are not flocking to engineering, foreign students account for over 63 percent of the engineering master's and doctorates at Texas' largest schools. That is while foreign enrollment has fallen because students have a tough time getting visas to study in post-9-11 America, it’s in America ’s national interest to remain open to foreign students in order to attract the best and the brightest.
By developing a strategy to attract and retain skilled and educated students and workers from around the world, the US can turn its existing strengths into long-term competitive advantages, building upon its international reputation for superb education and cutting-edge research.
Tightened visa procedures and entry conditions for international students, which were implemented in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, have affected the demand for student visas. The number of F-l student-visa applications submitted each year dropped by nearly 100,000 between Fiscal Year (FY) 2001 and FY 2004: particularly among students from Middle Eastern, North African, and some Southeast Asian countries. The decline in total foreign student enrollment in 2003/04 was the first in 30 years, while the decline in graduate student enrollment in 2004/05 was the first in 9 years. Beginning in 2002/03 (the first academic year after the terrorist attacks of September 11,2001) the annual growth rate of total enrollments by foreign students in US colleges and universities fell significantly. Factors cited most often by foreign students who chose to go to countries other than the US include long visa delays and high tuition fees.
Australia, Canada, South Korea, and many European countries have been actively recruiting foreign talent in order to alleviate labor shortages in skill-intensive sectors of their economies, stimulate research and development, and increase their access to foreign markets. To attract students from abroad, these nations offer lower-cost educational programs and easier immigration paths.
While foreign students' share of the total student population barely changed in the United States between 1998 and 2003, it increased by nearly half in Australia , more than tripled in New Zealand , and almost doubled in Sweden .
China and India together account for 25 percent of all foreign students and about 28 percent of all international scholars in the US. However, foreign student enrollment is still down.
There is a perception abroad that it will be very difficult to get a visa, or if you're a male between the ages of 14 and 45, that it will be very hard. However, there may be signs of a slow turnaround. A recent survey finds an eight percent increase in the number of new foreign students coming to the U.S this school year (figures released by Institute of International Education ); another sign of turnaround is the slow increase in student visas. Some schools are sending graduate school officials outside the US for recruiting for the first time in 4 or 5 years .
America is experiencing a profound immigration crisis, but it is not about the 11 million illegal immigrants currently being debated in the press. The real crisis is that the US is closing its doors to immigrants with degrees in science, math and engineering - the best and brightest from around the world who flock to the country for its educational and employment opportunities. These foreign-born workers are critically important to maintaining America ’s technological competitiveness.
(James E. Root, Principal Attorney for Root Law Group, has dedicated his entire legal career to fighting for and protecting the rights of US immigrants and their US employers. Phone: 888- Root-Law (888-766-8529).


Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
2004 . All Rights Reserved.