March 11, 2004

International Grad Student Applications Fall This Year

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A new government study shows that graduate schools across the country have noticed a significant drop in applications from international students. The General Accounting Office (GAO), the investigative branch of Congress, reported to the House Science Committee that the student visa process must be reconsidered so that numbers do not continue to decline.

The GAO report was based on a survey conducted in Feb. 2004 by the American Council on Education, the Association of American Universities, the Council of Graduate Schools, NAFSA: Association of International Educators, and the National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges.

The findings, which incorporated information from more than 530 institutions, included numbers from Cornell.

“We’ve definitely noticed a decline in international applications for fall 2004,” said Douglas Elliot, the Graduate School Data Analyst at Cornell.

Cornell reported a decline of 18 percent in overall international applications. This is especially significant, compared to a five percent increase in applicants from the U.S.. Cornell’s results, although dramatic, “fared better than average,” Elliot said.

The University’s overall decline is significantly less than the Council of Graduate School’s average of 32 percent.

By region, Cornell saw major changes as well. Applications from the People’s Republic of China decreased 36 percent, India declined 12 percent, and Taiwan went down by four percent. On the other hand, applications from Western Europe increased nine percent and those from the Middle East increased seven percent.

“We’re fairly certain that the reasons for the decline relate to the new visa processes in place since 9/11, including mandatory interviews for all students,” Elliot explained.

Many students who want to study science or technology in the United States have been asked to go through a Visa Mantis check before receiving visas. This security process, designed to protect against sensitive technology transfers, is most likely the cause of the drop in applications. It takes, according to the GAO, an average of 67 days for students to be processed and notified of their status.

The study’s results were presented to the House Science Committee as part of the GAO report entitled “Border Security: Improvements Needed to Reduce Time Taken to Adjudicate Visas for Science Students and Scholars.” Jess Ford, director of International Affairs and Trade for GAO, presented the report. “Our task is to eliminate bureaucratic inefficiencies in the existing security system that compromise our nation’s ability to attract promising scientists and engineers,” he said in a press statement.

“Our nation will not be secure, in the long run, if it does not have a healthy scientific enterprise, and science cannot thrive in an atmosphere of insecurity,” said Science Committee Chair Sherwood Boehlert (R-N.Y.) in a press statement.

The GAO recommended that the FBI and Department of Homeland Security streamline the process of approving visa cases by establishing goal points and clearer measures of efficiency, as well as by creating a better system of communication among international consuls and visa agencies. The Department of Homeland Security will also work to better organize the Student Exchange and Visitor Information System.

This year’s decline in applications from international students is the first drop since World War II, according to The New York Times. Cornell’s numbers have, over the past 12 years, seen a relatively steady incline. By the 2001-2002 school year, there were 3,181 international graduate students at the University, up from 2,299 in 1991-1992. A report from the University’s International Students and Scholars Office shows that enrolled students from regions like Asia, Oceania, and the Middle East have increased significantly in that same time period. This year’s numbers, however, prove that that trend may be over unless the visa process is revised soon.

Archived article by Melissa Korn