Foreign students returning; drop had followed '01 attacks
Associated Press
Dec. 6, 2007


Tucson, Arizona | Published:


BERKELEY, Calif. The number of international students attending American colleges and universities has nearly rebounded from a slump that followed the 2001 terrorist attacks, which triggered tough new visa restrictions and closer monitoring of foreign scholars.

During the 2006-07 academic year, nearly 583,000 international students took classes at U.S. schools, just 3,000 fewer than the record enrollment set just before the crackdown began, according to a recent report from the State Department and the non-profit Institute of International Education.

Vance Gram, 26, a graduate student from Norway who is studying political science at the University of California at Berkeley, said the nation is more welcoming to international students than it was a few years ago.

"There's been something of a release from the grip of fear and distrust of anything foreign," said Gram, who has been in and out of the United States for years. "And America is more relaxed now than even two, three years ago, never mind five."

The enrollment figures were welcomed by government and academic officials who have worked to attract foreigners.

"This is a hugely important economic investment, as well as an investment in human capital," said Tom Farrell, deputy assistant secretary for academic programs at the State Department, which released the report last month.

"We believe that people who study and learn here with us are better able to work with us later in their careers."

For years, U.S. schools made it easy for students from other countries to study here for long periods. But after one of the Sept. 11 hijackers entered the country on a student visa, the Bush administration got strict, adopting visa restrictions and changes that allowed the government fast access to foreign students' information. The FBI also worked closely to keep tabs on international students and watch for evidence of terrorism.

After enrollments declined, some officials grew concerned about the dwindling numbers because international scholars help keep the United States competitive in the global market and contribute $14.5 billion a year to the economy.

In January 2006, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings co-hosted a summit attended by college presidents. The goal: to recruit more foreign students to U.S. schools.

That resulted in new grants to help foreign students study in the United States, stepped-up recruiting in places such as India and China, and the hiring of new consular officials to expedite student-visa applications.

But even now, Gram said, applying to study in the United States is not without hassles.

"There are so many tedious and seemingly unneeded requirements in visa regulations and so forth," he said. "I think that still puts people off, so they end up going other places."