US, Texas universities and UT see decreases in international interest

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UT is receiving fewer applications from international students since 2016, a trend seen across the state and the U.S.

While the number of international students enrolled at UT has continued growing, University data shows a decrease in the number of international students who applied to study at UT this fall. 

For the 2016 fall semester, UT received a total of 20,660 applications from international students. But for the fall 2017 semester, 19,874 international students applied to UT, creating a 3.8 percent decrease.

Teri Albrecht, UT’s director of International Student & Scholar Services, said this decrease in international student applicants is small and not unprecedented. 

“It’s not as significant as maybe other schools are facing right now,” Albrecht said. 

The decrease in international applicants at UT comes at time when national and statewide trends indicate international students are staying away from U.S. and Texas universities.

International student enrollment in universities dropped by seven percent nationwide since 2016, according to a November report by the Institute for International Education. Texas universities, including UT-Austin, also saw varying decreases in international student applications and enrollment.

University systems in Texas, including Texas A&M and the University of Houston, have also seen decreases in international student applications, according to the Houston Chronicle. International applications dropped by six percent at UT-Dallas, according to the Texas Tribune, and by 41.3 percent at UT-Rio Grande Valley, according to the Houston Chronicle.

Slowed economic growth and decreased scholarship funding in countries like Brazil have contributed to the recent decreases in applications, but the U.S. political climate may also be a factor.

“We did hear from some institutions that there are concerns about both the social and political climate in the U.S. this year,” said Rajika Bhandari, head of research at the Institute of International Education, in an interview with the Texas Tribune.

Alex Molina, a public relations and radio-television-film senior, said UT has been welcoming to him as an international student during his four years in Austin. But he said President Trump’s immigration bans and discourse have felt threatening to international students like him.

“As a person from Latin America, it’s been certainly rough just to hear all this hate speech,” Molina said. “There’s been negative comments and real threats of taking away H1-B visas to get jobs in the U.S.”

The Protect and Grow American Jobs Act, currently in the U.S. House of Representatives, aims to make it harder for skilled foreigners to get U.S. work visas, according to Fortune. Molina, the director of community affairs for Planet Longhorn, said many international students in the organization have expressed concerns about future career opportunities for immigrants in the U.S. 

After 9/11, the U.S. government changed many immigration policies, and Albrecht said there were concerns this would prevent international students from bringing additional funding and expertise to UT.

“There were a lot of U.S. embassies and consulates that were quite concerning as to how welcoming the United States was during that period,” Albrecht said.  

Because UT receives more international applicants than it can admit, the 5,244 new international students enrolled at UT this fall is the biggest group yet, Albrecht said. 

“We as a comprehensive research institution, sometimes transcend those issues that might be happening at a political level,” Albrecht said.