Closed for Repairs

Posted by sepoy on November 24, 2004 · 4 mins read

One obvious effect of 9/11 has been the drop in foreign student enrollments in the US. Chronicle of Higher Education reported last week that from the '93-'94 academic year, the drop has been 2.4%. The drop is 6% in graduate students. India is one of the countries with a largest drop in graduate enrollment. I have no statistics for Pakistan but anecdotal evidence suggests the same picture. Kids who would have come to the US for undergrad or grad are going to Canada or England (matter of fact, EVERYONE is going to LSE, for some unknown reason).

Fareed Zakaria had an op-ed in WaPo yesterday, that decried this as bad for business:

Falling foreign enrollments will produce a broader but no less profound loss for the United States. America has spread its interests, ideas and values across the world by many means, but perhaps the single most effective one has been by educating the world's elites. For example, Western ideas about the benefits of free markets and free trade have become the global standard. This may have much to do with Western foreign and trade policies. But surely this shift has been strengthened and facilitated by the fact that so many of the people in the ministries of finance, trade and industry in the developing world were educated at Western universities. The U.S. government can claim little credit for Chile's remarkable and successful free-market revolution. But the University of Chicago -- which trained most of the economists who spearheaded those reforms in Santiago -- can. Foreign students return home from the United States bringing with them an appreciation for U.S. values, ideas and, indeed, for America itself.
The hegemony of ideas is often a greater and more lasting source of power than brute force. When historians write about our times, they will certainly note that America dominated the international agenda for decades through this distinctive form of power.

I care about this because I am one of those who came to the US to get educated [Got my visa at the Lahore Consulate. Got there early, around 5 in the morning, only to discover a looooong line. Got in line. They cut it off right behind me. Sultan Rahi was 2 ahead of me. Talked a while with him. Very nice guy. Around 4, I sat in front of a consulate officer who asked me something about my father and then said go sit over there ]. That day, I was one of two people who got the visa. So, getting a US Student visa has never been easy. The difference, I think, is that now it is approaching the point of impossibility. At the same time UK, Canada, Australia, EU are making themselves more and more attractive by offering English medium education and broad certification.

Some of those who came with me to the US (or those whom I met later) are back at home running multi-national companies, ngos, teaching at universities. There is an immense intellectual capital that they acquired in the States and which is now being invested in Pakistan. Goodwill and love for the US goes with it. Same, yet more dramatic, story in India where Banglore and Chennai were built by US educated tech elites.

Zakaria is absolutely right. US has to figure out how to reverse this trend. But, it is not just students that are despairing of visa policies. Even plain tourists are being rejected for unknown reasons. Zack described his family's case. I have been urging my parent to come visit and they are very hesitant. And rightly so, it seems.

Have a stuffy T-day.


Cheeni | November 24, 2004

So, getting a US Student visa has never been easy. The difference, I think, is that now it is approaching the point of impossibility.
Possibly true. I think a lot has to do with the difficulty of finding jobs in the US today, or the impossibility of being able to switch easily if you don't like it. I have serious difficulty believing this, but I've heard that IIT-M (Indian Institute of Technology, Madras) this year didn't send any grad students to the US. FWIW, I'm one of those typical US educated (Carnegie Mellon) brown goras, now back home (Chennai).

Ubaid | November 24, 2004

Even plain tourists are being rejected for unknown reasons. Yup, a horror story I heard recently brought that home in a way. Someone I know had his dad sent back from the airport on Oct 30 or thereabouts, the reason, or excuse, was not given, but apparently was the Iraq visit he'd made for religious purposes in 2001. Lod Dobbs keeps ranting about outsourcing, which is only very marginally justifiable, but now he's complaining about H1s, that guy doth protest too much I say.

Cheeni | November 25, 2004

the reason, or excuse, was not given, but apparently was the Iraq visit he'd made for religious purposes in 2001. This is the price America pays for spreading Americana all over the world. Global American values make someone in Iraq want to come to America, and naturally get pissed off when they are denied entry - America represents a lifestyle that many live inside and outside of it. And, Americans fail to understand why people get pissed off when they are denied entry, duh? I wouldn't really care to be in Turkmenistan now would I? Or would I care if travel to Turkmenistan become impossible?

thabet | November 25, 2004

Talking of holidays, I considered a trip to SF via Chicago earlier this year because Sterling is doing well against USD. American airlines (and American Airlines) are falling over themselves to offer tickets for under £200 (that's dirt cheap for Britishers). I ruled it out straight away for obvious reasons: my brown skin colour, 10 days growth on my face, identity as an "European Muslim", and funny Arabic sounding name on the passport, would attract too much attention by US immigration. I know many people of, shall we say, certain ethno-religious extractions who now decide not to go to the US, for holiday or work, for this very reason. Several people I know who did attempt to get in to the US for various reasons got picked on, very unfairly they felt. I am, of course, more than happy people will choose the UK over the US for whatever reason.

Andrew Reeves | November 29, 2004

I'd say that part of the problem with getting into America is that our immigration system has always been more clumsy and unwieldy than that of other western countries.

Case in point: I am in Canada on a student visa. Last weekend, my parents were in town visiting and we decided to go to Niagra Falls. We crossed over into the U.S., but on the way back I realized that my visa was in my desk up in Toronto.

I was then sent into the immigration office. I expected no good to come of the whole thing and to remain trapped in a legal limbo. Instead, when the line finally got me up to the immigration official, he ran my Ontario driver's license and was able to pull up all of the information on my Visa: When I had gotten my visa for my MA year, when I had gotten it renewed last summer, and what port of entry I had used to get into Canada in the summer of 2003. He then let me back into Canada. Now then, you are never going to encounter such efficiency from the INS. The result is that Canadian immigration is delightfully stress free when compared to America.


You should still come on over to the U.S. of A. Our immigration officials really aren't that scary. Most of the time when they harass people, it's because they're petty bureaucrats doing petty bureaucrat things. I'm about as white as can be and find that every now and again you encounter one who will milk the little bit of power he has for all it's worth.

sepoy | November 29, 2004

Andrew: That would never happen with INS. EVER. My application for residence lapsed for 2 years because my "file" couldn't be found. Literally. Until a federal judge urged them to look for it.

Andrew Reeves | November 29, 2004

Yeah, it's a crying ass shame that the U.S. can't figure out how to do immigration efficiently, especially since the northern neighbor has. Really, how hard could it be?