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How Do Americans View International Students?


In this May 2012 file photo, Chinese students wait outside the U.S. Embassy for their visa application interviews in Beijing, China. The Open Doors report says the number of international students in the U.S. has increased from 764,000 in 2011 to more than 1 million in 2020.
How Do Americans View International Students?
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Jack Li received his doctorate in science from a major university in the southeastern United States in 2020. The Chinese student said research opportunities remain strong in the U.S. but he planned to continue his work in Germany.

Li told VOA earlier in 2021 that part of his decision was because of the “political environment in the U.S.” Li had good reason to feel that way.

A recent survey by an education policy group showed Americans are somewhat concerned about too many Chinese students coming to study. The American Council on Education (ACE) talked to 1,000 Americans in the first part of 2021. It found that 43 percent of the people in the survey said they think international students take away places from American students.

In addition, about 40 percent also said they think “some international students are sent by their country to try and steal valuable U.S. intellectual property.” When China was used as an example, nearly 50 percent said it is a “widespread problem.”

Karin Fischer writes about international students for The Chronicle of Higher Education. Fischer said the number of international students coming to the U.S. grew by large numbers in recent years. So international students, especially those from China, became “a lot more visible” for people who live near colleges.

“They’d become kind of caught up in the politics of immigration, of the politics of sort of Chinese-American geopolitical conflict, they got caught up in the politics of COVID and school re-opening a year ago.”

FILE- In this March 14, 2019, file photo students walk on the Stanford University campus in Santa Clara, Calif.
FILE- In this March 14, 2019, file photo students walk on the Stanford University campus in Santa Clara, Calif.


The Institute of International Education’s Open Doors report says the number of international students in the U.S. has increased from 764,000 in 2011 to more than 1 million in 2020. In the same period, the number of Chinese students in the U.S. has nearly doubled from 194,000 to 372,000.

Sarah Spreitzer is director of government relations for ACE. She helped write the report that came from the survey. She said it was important for ACE to learn how Americans feel about international students.

ACE, she said, wanted to know if Americans supported the actions and words of former president Donald Trump and his administration related to international students. If they did, ACE wanted to make suggestions for how the administration of President Joe Biden could make life easier for international students.

New messages from Biden administration

In July, both Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Education Secretary Miguel Cardona talked to a group of international students at the EducationUSA Forum. Using video conferencing, Blinken said, “It’s strongly in our national interest for the United States to remain the world’s top study destination for international students.” And Cardona added that international education helped people around the world understand and effectively connect with each other.

While neither announced a new policy, Spreitzer said the messages should make a difference to international students currently in the U.S. and those considering coming. Spreitzer added that one of the best things the Biden administration can do to help international students is to send “clear” messages.

She pointed to a program called Optional Practical Training. The program permits international students working on degrees in science, technology, engineering and math to stay in the U.S. for up to three years to continue their training after graduation.

“Under the Trump administrations, there had been rumblings that they were going to withdraw the program, which would've been really problematic.”

Spreitzer explained students make long-term decisions about their education and might not come to the U.S. if programs such as Optional Practical Training get taken away. And for students who already were in the middle of their studies, it is difficult to deal with fast policy change.

In this Monday, June 15, 2020, photo Xujiao Wang, 32, of East Providence, R.I., stands for a photograph outside her home. Wang works for a Massachusetts company and is on the Optional Practical Training program for student visa holders.
In this Monday, June 15, 2020, photo Xujiao Wang, 32, of East Providence, R.I., stands for a photograph outside her home. Wang works for a Massachusetts company and is on the Optional Practical Training program for student visa holders.

While the Biden administration is more welcoming with international students, Fischer, the higher education writer, said some issues remain.

In August, the U.S. welcomed international students, including those from countries under COVID-19 restrictions, back to the U.S. Around the same time, the U.S. government dropped its case against five Chinese scientists accused of lying on their visa application. They were accused of hiding their ties to the Chinese military.

While the cases may not seem directly related to international students, “it can affect their behavior,” Fischer added.

Spreitzer said she is looking forward to the next Open Doors report. She hopes the numbers will show that international students are interested in coming back to the U.S.

“We’re very hopeful,” Spreitzer said, “that students are receiving that message that we are welcoming, we are open for business, and that the U.S., in general, we support our international students.”

I’m Dan Friedell.

Dan Friedell wrote this story for Learning English. Hai Do was the editor.

Are you a student thinking about coming to study in the U.S.? Do you think you will feel welcome? Tell us in the Comments Section and visit our Facebook page.

Quiz - How Do Americans View International Students?

Quiz - How Do Americans View International Students?

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Words in This Story

opportunity – n. an amount of time or a situation in which something can be done, a chance

survey – n. an activity in which many people are asked a question or a series of questions in order to gather information about what most people do or think about something

visible– adj. able to be seen

geopolitical– adj. a way of referring to politics and the relationship between nations around the world

destination – n. a place to which a person is going

optional – adj. available as a choice but not required

practical– n. appropriate or suited for actual use

rumblings– n. written or spoken comments showing that people are considering something

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