The Urgent Need to Modernize Our Nation’s Student Visa Policy

The Urgent Need to Modernize Our Nation’s Student Visa Policy
(AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
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Throughout my career—at Brown University, University of Notre Dame, and now as president of Miami University—I have been a strong advocate for robust global engagement, both sending our students into the world and bringing the world to Miami. This experience is critically important to prepare our students for life and work in the world of the future. Such engagements can impact their character, intellect, skills, self-understanding, and capacity to serve and lead in a way that elevates the wellbeing of individuals around them and the whole society. This is why we have set an ambitious goal of having every student have a study abroad or study away experience. 

Engagement with people of other nationalities reveals the indispensable truth of human commonality, equality, and dignity beyond the abstract, perhaps even debatable, propositions. The once-strange “other” becomes known as a person worthy of respect, solidarity, and participation in the common good. Strangers become friends, differences are revealed as enrichments, and wariness of the unknown turns into welcome. Moreover, the student gains heightened self-understanding by relating to others whose different cultures, backgrounds, and perspectives trigger deeper reflection, nuance, and synthesis of their views and practices. Such an experience accelerates the central goal of higher education – preparing individuals for life and work where everyone can flourish. 

This is why we must advance our nation’s immigration system to facilitate opportunities for the next generation. The U.S.’s higher education system is a beacon of hope around the world for promise and possibility. As a result, numerous world leaders, entrepreneurs, business leaders, and Nobel laureates have come to be educated at U.S. institutions. Moreover, our higher education system, including colleges, universities, and community colleges, has enjoyed the growth of international students.  

International students who choose U.S. colleges and universities contribute much to our campuses. They bring diverse thoughts and ideas and provide an occasion for the United States to share our ideas with others around the world. Beyond that, international students contribute significantly to local communities’ economies. 

According to a policy paper by Dr. Stephanie Kim, more than one million international students studied in the United States in the 2019 academic year. They contributed more than $35 billion to the U.S. economy, including just over 400,000 jobs. More than 22,000 international students attend our colleges and universities in Ohio, contributing more than $200 million in tuition. 

Therefore, we are asking the Biden Administration to undertake a substantial effort to help U.S. colleges and universities rebuild from what we’ve lost due to the COVID-19 pandemic and improve our higher education system’s prospects for years to come. Identifying a straightforward and robust reopening process for international students is the first step, but improving this process can only happen if the State Department communicates clearly and keeps an open line of communication between the U.S. government and colleges and universities. 

The recent update on the State Department website to allow for a return of international students is a step in the right direction. Outlining a clear policy, including consular reopenings, will help the higher education system prepare for the upcoming academic year and make administrators aware of the potential backlog to help with proper reentry. 

However, short-term fixes are simply stop-gap measures, not long-term strategies. Congress must address our immigration system, modernizing it to ensure the efficiency and effectiveness of international students’ access to applying and completing the visa process. None of this can happen without interagency cooperation and a partnership with U.S. colleges and universities. 

We stand ready to work together with this Administration and policymakers to build on the promise of rebuilding our economy and providing a higher education system that remains the light of hope and opportunity for students from every corner of the globe. Just as U.S. students benefit from study abroad, our nation benefits from the presence of international students on our college campuses. 

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