SF State is not the only institution experiencing a drop in enrollment. The California State University System as a whole has seen an 11% decrease in the total international student population and a 40% decrease in new international students returning in the Fall 2020 semester. (Camille Cohen / Golden Gate Xpress) (Camille Cohen)
SF State is not the only institution experiencing a drop in enrollment. The California State University System as a whole has seen an 11% decrease in the total international student population and a 40% decrease in new international students returning in the Fall 2020 semester. (Camille Cohen / Golden Gate Xpress)

Camille Cohen

Enrollment continues to drop among international students

December 14, 2020

While SF State has been seeing a steady decline in international student enrollment since hitting its peak in 2003, this trend has been exacerbated under the Trump administration and even further due to COVID-19, hitting a 20-year low in the process.

According to the National Association of Foreign Student Advisers: The Association of International Educators, new enrollments for international students in the entire U.S. have declined from 300,743 in the 2015-16 school year to 267,712 in the 2019-20 school year. President Trump has also imposed a two-year cap for international student visas coming from Iran, North Korea, Syria, Sudan, and 43 other countries.  

“International student enrollment decline has been a trend throughout the U.S. in the last four years due to the competition from other English-speaking countries as well as government policies that affect current and prospective international students.” SF State’s Office of International Programs said in an email to Xpress. 

During President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign, he tweeted, “When foreigners attend our great colleges & want to stay in the U.S., they should not be thrown out of our country.” 

However, the Trump administration proposed a rule this year that would eliminate the H-1B lottery, which is used to grant 65,000 visa petitions annually as part of the country’s immigration quota, and an additional 20,000 petitions for individuals with Masters degrees. 

SF State international student Ni An, from Beijing, China, has been enrolled at the school for over seven years, having finished her B.A. in philosophy and currently pursuing her M.A. degree in philosophy.

“Trump’s strict immigration policies are one of the decisive causes of the decrease in international students,” An said. “More importantly than the policies is how the country treats international students. During his presidency, he has used and targeted international students to exchange for domestic and diplomatic gain.

SF State is not the only institution experiencing a drop in enrollment. The California State University System as a whole has seen an 11% decrease in the total international student population and a 40% decrease in new international students returning in the Fall 2020 semester. 

An did not experience first hand the process of coming to the U.S during COVID since she has been in the states for the past 4 years. However, An said that for her friends who traveled back to the U.S. during the pandemic, the process was described as stressful and complicated. 

“I was told, in order to come back from countries including China, a student needs to stop in Cambodia  — or other countries which are not on the restriction list made by the Trump administration for more than 14 days, even if the student holds a valid visa.” An said. “It is impossible for those students to come back to the U.S. at all since the U.S. embassy stops issuing or renewing visas starting the early January of this year, right after the pandemic occurred in China.” she added.

This summer, SF State offered its new student orientation online, which allowed international students to receive academic advising and enroll in Fall 2020 classes while they are in their home countries. 

Other countries took similar measures by transitioning to remote learning and instituting travel restrictions such as closing borders and limiting nonessential travel. The travel restrictions, limited flights and visa delays or suspensions also affect international students’ willingness to pursue studies outside of their home countries.

 “The faculties of the international programs have been consistently providing help to international students before the pandemic,” An said. “Our voices need to be heard even more patiently, and we are seeking the schools to be in solidarity with us and protect our rights to education.”

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