Reducing number of foreign students could harm economy, experts warn
The Trump administration is considering limiting visas to Chinese students as part of a forthcoming package of tariffs and investment restrictions targeting Beijing, which could have negative effects on U.S. universities and the U.S. economy.
According to The Wall Street Journal and Politico, the package of measures is intended to punish China for allegedly violating American intellectual property laws and pressuring U.S. companies to transfer technology.
The Wall Street Journal reported that the restrictions include limiting the number of study and work visas for Chinese citizens and ending a program that allows frequent travelers to the U.S. to get visas that last 10 years.
"Generations of foreign policy leaders agree that international students and scholars are one of America's greatest foreign policy assets," Esther D. Brimmer, executive director and CEO of the Association for International Educators, said in a written statement on Thursday.
"If the administration imposes restrictions that will further prohibit students and scholars from choosing the United States as their destination, we will suffer devastating impacts for decades to come," she added.
China sends the most international students to the U.S., representing about a third of the 1.1 million international students enrolled at American universities in the 2016-17 academic year, according to the Institute of International Education (IIE).
"With international students contributing $36.9 billion to the U.S. economy last year and supporting more than 450,000 jobs, any drop in enrollment would have severe consequences," Brimmer said.
"Chinese students alone contribute $12 billion, alongside countless other benefits, so even a modest reduction in Chinese enrollment would be devastating," she said.
The U.S. has long run a large trade deficit in goods and services with China and many other countries.
Americans studying abroad spent $7.6 billion on education, according to the year cited in the IIE report. That means the U.S. ran a trade surplus in education, one of the largest of any industries.
"Admitting outstanding international students is a key factor in the success of U.S. universities, and Chinese students are the single biggest group," David Dollar, an expert on China-U.S. relations who previously served as a Treasury official in the Obama administration, told China Daily in an email.
"Limiting visas for Chinese students would reduce the quality of U.S. universities and reduce a key export for the U.S. economy," Dollar said.
"The U.S. administration is frustrated with many of China's trade and investment practices and limiting visas is one way to capture the attention of Chinese leaders and try to force them to open up," Dollar said. "I do not think it is likely to work."
"The restrictions will have a serious impact on many U.S. universities and colleges, because in the most cases, international students pay much higher tuition rates than American students do," said Dick Startz, an economics professor at the University of California-Santa Barbara.
Startz added that international students often pay two or three times what American students pay at many public colleges. If colleges lose that income, they could be tempted to offset the losses by raising tuitions on American students.
"It will also hurt American students in that they're just not going to get to know as many people from China as they used to," said Startz.
Losing that kind of communication between Chinese and American students in the long term will hurt the friendship between the two nations, Startz added.
The number of visas awarded to foreign students fell 17 percent in the year through last September and were down 40 percent from a fiscal 2015 peak, State Department data show.
Visas for students from China fell 24 percent in the last fiscal year.