With several top-tier colleges and universities, the Washington region has long been a magnet for foreign students seeking advanced degrees. But a new report, examining U.S. student visa data, reveals a more complex portrait of international students. For example, more foreign students come to Washington from Hyderabad, India than any other city in the world. And many of those students are attending unaccredited or for-profit colleges. Kojo gets a snapshot of foreign students in local schools.


  • Neil Ruiz Senior Policy Analyst and Associate Fellow, Metropolitan Policy Program, Brookings Institution
  • Fanta Aw Assistant Vice President of Campus Life and Hurst Senior Professorial Lecturer, School of International Service, American University; President, NAFSA: Association of International Educators

Foreign Students in Washington, D.C.

The Brookings Institution released an analysis of foreign students in the U.S. using data from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, obtained through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Request. All data are aggregates across the 2008–2012 time period.

Among the findings:

The top five Metro areas for foreign students are New York, Los Angeles, Boston, San Francisco and Washington, D.C., according to the report.


In the D.C. area, Georgetown University takes in the most foreign students, followed by George Washington University, the University of Maryland and the University of Northern Virginia.



  • 12:06:40

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. More than half a million foreign students enter this country every year to study at American colleges and universities. And tens of thousands choose schools in D.C., Maryland and Virginia, attracted no doubt by top-tier research programs and opportunities in government and the private sector. But a new report on student visas paints a complex and sometimes surprising picture of why international students choose to make Washington their academic home.

  • 12:07:25

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIIt turns out that certain cities, like Hyderabad, India, or Seoul, South Korea, send the lion's share of students to local universities. Three quarters of foreign students in Washington come for advanced degrees. And many of them are enrolling at for-profit institutions like Stratford University and the now-defunct University of Northern Virginia. The data sheds light on underreported cultural and economic links between cities around the world. It may also highlight flaws in our immigration system.

  • 12:08:01

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIJoining us in studio to talk about this is Neil Ruiz. He is senior policy analyst and fellow at the Metropolitan Policy Program at Brookings Institution. He's author of a new report titled, "The Geography of Foreign Students in U.S. Higher Education: Origins and Destinations." You can find a link to that report on our website, kojoshow.org. Neil Ruiz joins us in studio. Thank you so much for joining us.

  • 12:08:28

    MR. NEIL RUIZWell, thank you very much for having me.

  • 12:08:30

    NNAMDIAlso joining us in studio is Fanta Aw, assistant vice president of Campus Life and lecturer in the School of International Service at American University. She is the president of NAFSA, the Association of International Educators. Fanta Aw, good to see you again.

  • 12:08:47

    MS. FANTA AWGood to see you, Kojo. Thank you for the invitation.

  • 12:08:49

    NNAMDIYou, too, can join this conversation at 800-433-8850. Did you come to Washington, D.C. as a foreign student? What attracted you to this region in the first place? 800-433-8850. You can send email to kojo@wamu.org. Send us a tweet @kojoshow. Neil, the international data is pretty eye-opening. Between 2001 and 2012, the number of foreign students in the U.S. increased five-fold, from just over 100,000 to over half a million in 2012. But that data only takes us so far. You filed a Freedom of Information Act request to get your hands on so-called F-1 student visas in that time period and broke it down on a local-to-local level. Why is that important?

  • 12:09:39

    RUIZThis really why -- the reason why it's important is because economies function at the local level. That's where schools are located, employers. Networks are formed there. And that's basically the home towns of students. That's where they feel, you know, intimately connected with.

  • 12:09:55

    NNAMDI800-433-8850 is our number. What do you think is driving the rapid increase in foreign students around the country? Is this an opportunity for local economies? Or do you see it as a red flag? Neil, at a macro level, we know that China and India account for the largest populations of international students. How do national patterns of student migration compare to patterns we see at the local level?

  • 12:10:23

    RUIZAt the national level, yes, it's mostly India and China, and mostly the big, emerging economies. But at the local level we see here in Washington, D.C., same thing. India's the number one country of citizenship for foreign students, followed by China, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, and actually Nepal, which was a big surprise, since that's a very small country and actually a lot poorer than those other four countries.

  • 12:10:49

    NNAMDII'd like to talk about Nepal for a second because it's a small land-locked nation in south Asia, wedged between India and China. And yet it sends a relatively huge number of students to the United States. In The Washington Post, Nick Thompson recently wrote about Howard University, historically black college, where one quarter of the foreign students in this year's freshman class come from Nepal -- more than from countries like Jamaica and Nigeria. What should we make of these students from Nepal?

  • 12:11:19

    RUIZI think Nepal and -- the nation actually seized the opportunity of going to the United States as an economic development strategy. So I think that many of the students from Kathmandu, in particular, are really -- I see a high number coming here into Washington areas. And as Nick Anderson wrote about in the Post is really interesting, how they're clustering in Howard University.

  • 12:11:40

    NNAMDIYeah, we'll get to more about that in a second. But I'd like to turn to you, Fanta, because you come at this issue from a number of perspectives. You've studied these flows as an academic, but you also oversee the international student services here -- the office here at American University. Does this data align with what you have been seeing?

  • 12:11:59

    AWI think, yes, it very much aligns with what we're seeing on the ground. As I think Neil pointed out, a lot of these flows are not accidental. I think families and communities are making decisions every day. And what is factoring into these decisions are really, where are the hubs where our students can get perhaps the best education, but also in the process can increase their human capital. And so I think, given that, you know, we're seeing more and more students who are coming to the United States in the pursuit of an education with the understanding that this will help increase their human capital.

  • 12:12:34

    AWAnd Washington is a very attractive destination for many reasons. Because it is Washington, for sure.

  • 12:12:40


  • 12:12:40

    AWAnd also because for the location that we're in, there are so many institutions that are here in this city and in Virginia and Maryland as well. That makes it a very attractive feature, I think, for those students who are coming here.

  • 12:12:53

    NNAMDIGo ahead.

  • 12:12:54

    AWThe other thing I wanted to point out particularly around the Nepal story as well, is that for a lot of those students, it's important to keep in mind that a majority of those students are coming with their own funding -- in the sense that it's coming from family funding. These are not necessarily in the case of Nepal students who are being sponsored by their government. And so that also is something that I think we need to keep in mind in terms of sort of the family decision about where to get an education and how to access that education.

  • 12:13:19

    NNAMDIWhich is why I won't be surprised if the University of the District of Columbia has significant Nepali students, because a new Nepali restaurant opened just down the street from this station and across the street from UDC. In the case of these Nepali students attending Howard University, The Washington Post report identified the source of the spike. It was a 20-year-old math major from Kathmandu who apparently told a lot of his friends and family about how great his experience was. What role to social networks in foreign cities play in the flows of foreign students?

  • 12:13:54

    AWI would say, as a sociologist, it's everything.

  • 12:13:56

    NNAMDIIt is.

  • 12:13:57

    AWIt is everything.

  • 12:13:57

    NNAMDII would say it's, from personal experiences, everything.

  • 12:13:59

    AWIt is everything. I often say social networks are powerful. They're powerful in terms of directing the flow and in determining where people go and in what numbers they go. I often use the same analogy of taxi-cab drivers, right?

  • 12:14:14


  • 12:14:15

    AWAnd the fact that, you know, you see sort of populations congregate in specific fields and professions, and it's not by accident. Much of it is very much driven by these social networks. And so having this person from Kathmandu who's had a good education means then the word spread. And that then becomes sort of a natural progression of how the flow then, you know, sort of comes into the direction that it does.

  • 12:14:36

    NNAMDIIn case you're just joining us, we're talking about foreign students at local universities and inviting you to join the conversation. 800-433-8850. Did you come here as a foreign student? Why did you come to this region? Why did you decide, maybe, to stay? 800-433-8850. Or send email to kojo@wamu.org. Neil, Howard University's link to Kathmandu appears to be organic. But some schools are not relying on word of mouth alone. They're actively recruiting and advertising abroad to get students to come to their institutions. How does that typically work?

  • 12:15:12

    RUIZSo a big local university, George Mason University, actually hired a very expensive -- a multi-million dollar contract -- a recruitment agency to recruit students, since GMU wants more international students to internationalize. So that's kind of a big business, to really find these networks to introduce students abroad to the opportunities here in the United States. And, you know, if they haven't heard from -- about George Mason University, this is their way of introducing it to the world.

  • 12:15:42

    NNAMDIIs AU doing anything along similar lines?

  • 12:15:45

    AWAmerican University certainly recruits overseas. Our recruitment happens in-house. And as truly, as we speak, we have teams of folks who are out there, are doing international recruitment in different parts of the world. And we tend to pick areas of the world where we already have had a presence and where we have a solid alumni base. Because, again, that really matters around social networks theory.

  • 12:16:07


  • 12:16:07

    AWSo that is certainly one of the ways that we go about that, yes.

  • 12:16:11

    NNAMDII'd like to contrast the pattern of Nepali students with students from Hyderabad, India. It's a big city in southern India and one of the hubs of the global IT industry. But it's a city most people in the U.S. and in Washington probably have never heard of, don't know very much about. And yet your data indicates that Hyderabad sends more students to this region than any city in the world. Why do you think that is?

  • 12:16:38

    RUIZIt's fascinating. So Hyderabad is the IT center -- one of the major hubs of the information technology revolution in India. And I think the most of them are going to, whom I see, the defunct University of Northern Virginia. And most of the students are studying for master's degrees in computer science. So I think that there must be something going on within India to recruit students to work in the United States and through these universities.

  • 12:17:09

    NNAMDIWell, the fact that the Department of Homeland Security actually shut down Northern Virginia University may be a topic for another discussion. But as you pointed out, the majority -- 96 percent of the students from Hyderabad, India were pursuing master's or doctoral degrees. And almost all of them were studying in the STEM field. At local level, these numbers might raise some eyebrows. These students mostly attended, you pointed out, Stratford University, a for-profit school with campuses around northern Virginia, and the University of Northern Virginia. Do you think this was a way simply to bring them into the employment stream, if you will?

  • 12:17:50

    RUIZI think that there's theories that that could be the case is happening. I noticed in the data, when you look at Hyderabad, you can see that they're -- most of them, the top five schools are schools I've never heard of. The University of Northern Virginia, again, Herguan University in Silicon Valley, International Technological University, and Stratford, again. So those are schools, you know, that are not name-recognitioned. They're not what they call Carnegie tier-one or tier-two ranked universities.

  • 12:18:21

    NNAMDIYou can find an interactive map at our website, kojoshow.org, that was put together by the Brookings Institution report that Neil Ruiz was involved with. He's a senior policy analyst and fellow at the Metropolitan Policy Program at Brookings, author of the new report. It's titled, "The Geography of Foreign Students in U.S. Higher Education: Origins and Destinations." He joins us in studio along with Fanta Aw, assistant vice president of Campus Life and lecturer in the School of International Service at American University. Fanta is also the president of NAFSA, the Association of International Educators.

  • 12:18:56

    NNAMDIWe're taking your calls at 800-433-8850. We start with Maher in Potomac, Md. Maher, you're on the air. Go ahead, please. Go right ahead. Maher, start over again. I didn't click on you until the last second.

  • 12:19:15

    MAHERUniversities in America prefer to give students from abroad admission even over American students because they pay full tuition. They don't have to go through financial-aid channels, which are very cumbersome. And at the expense of the American student, these students get admitted into our universities. Ultimately, they come back and compete with American industry. It's a very sad state of affairs.

  • 12:19:48

    NNAMDISo making the argument, Fanta Aw, that these students are, A, depriving American students of places in these universities and, B, after they graduate, they end up competing with American students.

  • 12:19:48

    NNAMDIShe thinks that it's a lose-lose situation for the United States. What do you say?

  • 12:20:08

    AWWell, first of all, let me start by prefacing the fact that international students do not even make up 4 percent of the entire enrollment in U.S. higher education. So when you start looking at the numbers, let's start with that because I think context matters. It basically means 96 percent of those who are enrolling in U.S. higher education are U.S. students. So given the numbers already to start off with, this argument that international students are displacing U.S. students I think not only is not warranted but the data does not purport to that. So that would be the first response to that.

  • 12:20:43

    AWThe second response, which I do agree with the caller on, is this issue of really what is the U.S. stance on these international students as assets because we do see them as assets. What does it mean for their education to come to the U.S.? And I think frankly because of a broken immigration system are enabled to be able to fully leverage, you know, the value of their education, whether they choose to have that here in the U.S. and be able to work or be able to take it elsewhere because we're in a global economy.

  • 12:21:13

    AWAnd so I think given that, we are losing, I think, significant assets with our international students who come, who study in fields that are very much fields in demand and where we're not able to keep them because we are not -- we don't have a system that allows for that.

  • 12:21:26

    NNAMDINeil Ruiz, Mahur was making the point that she feels that these students are displacing American students and ultimately will compete with them.

  • 12:21:35

    RUIZWell, I would have to agree that it's not -- that students are not necessarily competing. Again, it is under 4 percent. And even if there's been this explosion in growth of F1 visas of foreign students, they really haven't been displacing students -- native students. So that's kind of a first point. But secondly, after they graduate, it's very challenging to stay in the United States. There's many challenges. They have to go from the F1 visa to what's called optional practical training to allow them to work for one year to getting an H1B, which is only 85,000 per year for the entire nation. And they ran out in one week and they had to do a lottery.

  • 12:22:16

    RUIZThen they have to go for a green card which could take six to ten years, especially if they're from China and India. So there are many obstacles in our current immigration system that would keep foreign students from even staying after they graduate.

  • 12:22:30

    NNAMDIGot to take a short break. When we come back, we'll be continuing this conversation. We're taking a snapshot, if you will, of foreign students in Washington area universities, inviting your calls at 800-433-8850. You can also send email to kojo@wamu.org or shoot us a tweet @kojoshow. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 12:24:41

    NNAMDI...the School of International Service at American University. She's president of NAFSA, the Association of International Educators. She joins us in studio along with Neil Ruiz, senior policy analyst and fellow at the Metropolitan Policy Program at Brookings Institution. Neil is the author of a new report titled "The Geography of Foreign Students in U.S. Higher Education: Origins and Destinations." You can find a link to that report at our website kojoshow.org. You can join the conversation by calling 800-433-8850 or sending email to kojo@wamu.org.

  • 12:25:20

    NNAMDIFanta, this is a much less incendiary corner of our broader debate about immigration in this country but there are some people who feel that the massive influx of foreign students, as you've been hearing already, is having a negative impact on American-born high school and college students. Most top universities are not expanding the number of spots they offer every year but they are increasing the number of foreign students they accept, many of whom pay more than American students and many of whom have better test scores. But it does raise the question, do American institutions of higher learning have an ethical duty to train American students first?

  • 12:26:00

    AWI would say certainly U.S. higher education has a duty to train students, American students and all students. I think this issue of displacement that keeps coming up in terms of, you know, with the increases in international students, Kojo, again the numbers of international students are so significantly small when you think about the size of U.S. higher education., and also especially when you think about the capacity of U.S. higher education given the number of universities that we have in this country relative to other countries. And when you see the numbers of international students coming here, the capacity is huge. We haven't even made a dent, frankly, in terms of capacity.

  • 12:26:43

    AWAnd so the concern or the fear that international students are coming in and they're displacing U.S. students, I really frankly think is unsubstantiated. I don't think it's warranted in the way in which it keeps coming up. And again, the data just doesn't seem to support that claim.

  • 12:27:02

    NNAMDIWe go an email from Steve in Arlington, Va., Neil. Steve writes, "I found the description of George Mason University recruiting overseas a little dishonest. They don't per say want to internationalize. They want more students that they can charge out of state tuition to since GMU is a state university. A private school charges the same tuition to all students, if you don't consider scholarships. State schools make money off of getting out-of-staters. Is this partially an economic decision on the part of George Mason?"

  • 12:27:32

    RUIZYes. I mean, on the short term what I've seen for cases like GMU, the biggest growth metropolitan areas in the United States have been metros with big state universities. But we have to remember that we came in a time of a recession. And many state budgets, usually they think of art and then education in terms of cutting their budgets. So a lot of these universities have been expanding the size but as well as really trying to recruit international students because they pay full freight.

  • 12:28:00

    RUIZSo I see it more as complementing to keep the students -- to keep the schools -- the public universities still running instead of having to close down programs within them.

  • 12:28:10

    AWThe other thing I would add to what Neil just said is that again, we have to examine this program -- this problem in a larger context. And it's really the context of the defunding of state institutions in this country that continues to be rampant. And that really does bring a lot of questions about the fact of what is sort of the future state of higher education in this country when our set of gold standards like the UC system and others are really continuously being defunded, right?

  • 12:28:39

    AWAnd then added to that is the fact that for the students who are coming who are international students, particularly at the undergraduate level, they're coming with sort of full funding from their home countries. One of the other things that we have to recognize is that these students in some ways are subsidizing in order to be able to keep the doors open and in order to be able to afford U.S. students the kind of education that they're looking for. And so the problem is much more complex than often seems to be sort of the headlines.

  • 12:29:05

    NNAMDIOn to David in Arlington, Va. David, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:29:10

    DAVIDThank you, Kojo. A quick experience. I was at the University of Virginia at Darden, about 30 percent international students. And one of the students was from China, came back this June and with Governor Terry McAuliffe announced a $2 billion investment in the State of Virginia creating 2,000 new jobs. Highly beneficial for my educational experience and highly beneficial for the state also.

  • 12:29:33

    NNAMDICare to comment, Neil?

  • 12:29:34

    RUIZYeah, that's exactly the example or reason why I did this report to really look at the local-to-local connections. Because foreign students are assets. They are the bridges for the global economy. They're basically economic ambassadors that can actually make things happen. We think about globalization and talk about trade, foreign direct investment. But it's people that actually -- with the networks that actually allow that to happen. So that's a great example of former foreign students or current foreign students connecting local businesses or attracting money from abroad to come into the local economy.

  • 12:30:09

    NNAMDICare to comment at all, Fanta?

  • 12:30:10

    AWAnd I would add again to what Neil said, which is absolutely the case, is that we need to think of this as a long-term investment. It's not just that students are coming, and in coming they may be coming in with full funding or they're coming in and are contributing to groundbreaking research. But it's the fact that this is really a long-term investment in terms of sort of the economic trend.

  • 12:30:33

    AWAnd the fact that we live in a global economy and that for many of these students when they return home they return home with the intent of being able to do business globally. And the U.S. is part of that global economy.

  • 12:30:45

    NNAMDIHere is Jay in Washington, D.C. Jay, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:30:49

    JAYHi, there. I just wanted to make a point that I think specifically with respect to our higher education policies and foreign student involvement, I think you'll find in any top quality U.S. institution that does graduate work in the STEM fields that you'll find a very substantial proportion of those students that are foreign students. And I don't think there's any issue of that whatsoever. I think they do a great job and I happened to marry one of them.

  • 12:31:17

    JAYBut what we do have is a little bit of a bipolar system, I think, where we invite these students to come and study in our higher education institutions. And many of them to a great job and integrate themselves very well with American society and are interested in continuing their work here. But we make it very difficult for these people to gain gainful employment in their fields of study here in the U.S.

  • 12:31:42

    JAYAnd I understand the arguments for and against, you know, quotas or limits on the number of foreign students, and I'm not expressing a specific viewpoint on it, whether we should increase those numbers or decrease those numbers, but I did want to make the point that these policies are really out of sync. And I think a lot of foreign students that otherwise do a great job, really just get caught in the middle.

  • 12:32:05

    NNAMDIWell, there are no quotas on foreign students coming to the United States. There are quotas on people who can work here from other countries. Is that correct, Neil?

  • 12:32:15

    RUIZYes, that's correct. So there is no cap on the F1 visas but it's the challenge afterwards. As I said before, getting the OPT, there's no cap on that as well. They just have to get the work authorization. But that only lasts for a year to 29 months if they have a STEM degree. But the key is gained that 85,000 H1B visas which only comes in a first-come-first-serve basis in April. That's kind of a very archaic immigration system that really doesn't take into account globalization because, as you said, networks form. These students are -- even if there's a lot of them going to grad school, they're studying fields -- you know, majority -- two-thirds are studying in the STEM or business fields.

  • 12:32:58

    RUIZThese are fields that are important to both local employers as well as employers in their home towns. So they're highly sought out. And if we make it very difficult for them to stay here, they can go elsewhere.

  • 12:33:10

    NNAMDIFanta, popular attitudes towards careers and science seem to be very different in countries like India and China and Nigeria than they are here. And you say that that might be one of the unspoken forces that is influencing this matter.

  • 12:33:25

    AWNo, absolutely. I mean, I think when you think about the fields of study of students in particular in the STEM fields, and this question comes up of, you know, why are they coming to the U.S. and what are the implications? I think we also have to go back and really ask ourselves the question about, what is the nature of education and what is the stat of education in this country and elsewhere?

  • 12:33:45

    AWI think it's safe to say that in many, many parts of the world there's really an emphasis around sciences and the important of sciences. When you think about in the case of the U.S., for a lot of students, you know, when you go into higher education there's more of an incentive to go and do an MBA and in some cases maybe a law program. Maybe not right now given what's happening in sort of the field of JD (sp?) . But that is a fact. And yet in other parts of the world, this continues to be a very critical message that the STEMs matter. So that's one component of the explanation for why we're getting a lot of the folks in the STEM.

  • 12:34:21

    AWThe second has to do also with the funding structure. It happens to be that those are prominent areas of research where funding is available and where a lot of these students are coming not only to study, but in many ways they're contributing in significant ways to groundbreaking research.

  • 12:34:37

    NNAMDIOn to Diana in Potomac, Md. Diana, your turn.

  • 12:34:41

    DIANAHi. Thank you very much. Interesting discussion. I'm a little alarmed at how insular some of the complaints and calls have been in terms of, you know, well, these schools should be to our kids. The students who are coming -- the foreign students who are coming are bringing such a gift. I grew up in the Foreign Service as a kid and moving every two years from one third world country to another and being exposed to cultures, languages, food, political culture, all of it.

  • 12:35:10

    DIANAAnd I think that the gift of having those students come here is more -- is as much of an education as what the kids are actually going to school and paying their tuition for. We, in the U.S., have a very bad habit of assuming everybody should speak English, everybody should look like us and have our food available and preferably our favorite franchise. It's backwards. It should be the other way around.

  • 12:35:34

    NNAMDITo which you say, Fanta?

  • 12:35:36

    AWI'd say she's absolutely correct in her assessment of this. You know, it is something that we should be really concerned about. I've often argued that, you know, it is true that the majority of American students will never leave, you know, this country and will never engage with the world in the way in which we would like for them to be engaged with the world.

  • 12:35:55

    AWOne way that we're able to do that in higher education is with the presence of international students. It's also through internationalizing the curriculum. And so these students really, once again, really present a tremendous asset to our universities and help really expose our U.S. students to what is really fundamental about how the world has changed and why it has changed.

  • 12:36:15

    NNAMDIThe globalized world that we now live in. We move on to Suman in Washington, D.C. Suman, your turn.

  • 12:36:24

    SUMANYes. So I was trying to say that when one of your guests said about the policy of F1 to H1 and green card long time, I think whatever policy we have right now, it is perfect and right because it should be tough. It should be difficult. I can give you my own example. I got green card in three months when I was a nationalist (unintelligible). Now I'm assistant (unintelligible) at Nova. So it is not easy. It should not be easy. I mean, it's -- this is the way it is. It's not about connection. It's about your performance and everybody wants to come to USA. And you have to prove yourself. And another the thing that (unintelligible) ...

  • 12:37:07

    NNAMDIWell, you said you got a green card in three months when you were at the National Institute (word?) ...

  • 12:37:11

    SUMANYes, from F1. Yeah, from F1. Not only from H1. So I did my PhD from New Mexico State. I came to NIH and I applied and I got it in three months from May to July so -- in my mailbox. So the point is, the 62-10 is because as you know, it is about computer engineer. Hundreds and hundreds of computer engineer come and take jobs from Americans because they are cheap labor. Fanny Mae's a good example in my neighborhood. And it should take time because it's a huge load of population from one country.

  • 12:37:45

    SUMANSo for STEM, I completely agree with the policy of U.S. government and immigration law. If you are good, you apply, they will give it to you or you have to wait. So that's my point.

  • 12:37:57

    NNAMDII don't know. Care to comment on that Neil Ruiz?

  • 12:37:59

    RUIZI mean, I think that that's interesting. And one, he must be -- Suman must be very talented because that's a great -- I mean, he said NIH so that's why he was able to apply straight to what they call the E1 for permitted residency in the green card line. But secondly, I think that it's still a challenge again overall. And I think what he raises is the caution as well.

  • 12:38:19

    RUIZSo when we create policies we have to be careful again of the places like (word?) sending to University of Northern Virginia. Because policies in the House and Senate, which they're not going to really do anything, but they -- yet, so -- but they agree that they wanted to do something to make it faster for foreign students to get green cards. We just have to be cautious that we're not having -- allowing diploma mills to actually take over and build a whole demand and a whole industry for students to come through -- our educational systems to go to green card.

  • 12:38:49

    RUIZSo I think he's right to be cautious. He thinks -- I mean, it should be challenging. But at the same time it's still very difficult because there are many examples, unlike him, where students -- former foreign students don't get green cards and -- or don't get the H1 visa as well.

  • 12:39:04

    NNAMDIYeah -- no, people think of diploma mills, they think of basketball and football schools. They don't think of people who have degrees in STEM topics at this point. But I guess, in some ways, we're talking about the same thing. A clarification is needed here. We got a tweet from @arlingtonsteve who asked, "Why do illegal aliens get in-state tuition at state schools but not foreigners legally present?"

  • 12:39:29

    NNAMDII guess foreigners legally present are not considered residents of that state. If somebody is an undocumented immigrant who happens to live in that state and has gone to elementary and junior high and high school in that state, in many states they qualify as a resident of that state and can get in-state tuition. Someone coming from another country, no matter how well qualified, cannot be considered a resident. Is that -- my interpretation correct, Fanta?

  • 12:39:55

    AWI think that's a correct interpretation. And I think also, again, as Neil's research pointed out, as institutions and also as local economies and local communities understand the value of the presence of international students, we are seeing more states looking at the in-state, out-of-state tuition and looking at international students possibly being part of that mix as well.

  • 12:40:19

    NNAMDIHere is Tom, in Washington, D.C. Tom, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:40:23

    TOMHello, Kojo. Thank you very much. I enjoy your show.

  • 12:40:26

    NNAMDIThank you.

  • 12:40:28

    TOMI have a comment. I can trace my family back to counties in Ireland where we came over here during the Civil War and fought for this country. My -- both of my grandparents were in, you know, in the military as well. What gives anyone the right to just come here easily and get our education that we have fought -- we have built this education system? We, I mean, I can trace it back in my family and I'm sure other native, American-born citizens can trace it back. What gives people the right to just come here and take that dream from us?

  • 12:41:06

    NNAMDIWell, what happens if those people are paying higher tuition rates than people who are born here to attend the same university?

  • 12:41:15

    TOMI think that is the problem with everything in this world, greed.

  • 12:41:19

    NNAMDII think I'd like to have one of my panelists respond to that. Fanta, you.

  • 12:41:25

    AWWell, first of all…

  • 12:41:27

    NNAMDIFanta is almost speechless, but go ahead.

  • 12:41:29

    AWI am speechless. But that's good. There are lots of different responses to this, but let me start with sort of the first. This idea that they're here to take the education away is really based, frankly, on the politics of fear. I'm just going to be very honest about that. There's a real politics of fear that really, I think, is driving a lot of this. And that is something that I think we have to acknowledge and we need to kind of really tackle. That would be my first immediate response.

  • 12:41:59

    AWMy second response to this issue of, you know, the investment that's being made in institutions and international students coming in, again, I cannot emphasize enough that we're talking about 3 percent, maybe 4 percent of students.

  • 12:42:18

    NNAMDINot a large percentage. Neil?

  • 12:42:20

    RUIZYeah, for Tom I think that I see his fear and, you know, we have, you know, your family, your roots have fought for America and getting educated here. But I think we have to remember it's a different time now, where education -- where -- we live in a very globalized world. It's a lot smaller. And a lot of our local economies need to be connected globally.

  • 12:42:42

    RUIZAnd foreign students, having them are really big assets in today because you have, you know, computers, science is a very fast, I.T. is big hub in India, big markets in China, all throughout the cities in South Korea and Seoul. So it's -- they're assets. They're giving us access to global markets because before we didn't have that. It was a lot longer to go on a ship, but now it's a lot faster. We need access to those networks.

  • 12:43:08

    NNAMDIWell, the data in your report gives us a snapshot of who's coming and who's going to Washington, but it also provides information about the economic impact of foreign students on local economies. How do all of these students affect Washington's economy?

  • 12:43:23

    RUIZYeah, so Washington, on the short term, just thinking about the tuitions, over $1.1 billion came in in five years. And that's about 3.5 percent of all foreign students studying in the U.S., their contribution to American economy. So it's big.

  • 12:43:39

    AWThe other thing I wanted to also just quickly respond to…

  • 12:43:42


  • 12:43:42

    AW…is this notion that it's very easy to come to the U.S. for an education. That is simply not the case.

  • 12:43:50

    NNAMDIIt's expensive?

  • 12:43:50

    AWIt's expensive. It takes tremendous amount of time.

  • 12:43:52

    NNAMDIA lot of paperwork.

  • 12:43:55

    AWYou have to jump through tremendous hoops to do that in order to come here. So this idea that it's very easy to just get on a plane and land in the U.S. is just -- it's fiction.

  • 12:44:03

    NNAMDITom, thank you very much for your call. We've got to take another short break. If you have called, stay on the line. We will get to your calls. If you'd like to call the number is 800-433-8850. You can send email to kojo@wamu.org. You can go to our website, kojoshow.org. Ask a question or make a comment there. You'll also find a link to Neil Ruiz's report, "The Geography of Foreign Students in U.S. Higher Education." You can also send us a tweet, @kojoshow.org with your comment or question. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 12:46:18

    NNAMDIWelcome back. We're discussing international students in local universities with Neil Ruiz, senior policy analyst and fellow at the Metropolitan Policy Program at Brookings Institution. Neil is author of a new report titled, "The Geography of Foreign Students in U.S. Higher Education: Origins and Destinations." Fanta Aw is assistant vice president of Campus Life and lecturer in the School of International Service at American University.

  • 12:46:41

    NNAMDIShe's also president of NAFSA, the Association of International Educators. We've been inviting your calls at 800-433-8850. Emails to kojo@wamu.org. And some of the objections have been coming in by way of email. We got one from Roger who says, "It's an open secret that some countries, such as China, pursue national objectives by stealing intellectual property. It's much cheaper than purchasing it or paying royalties. I'm concerned about these countries using students to achieve these national objectives."

  • 12:47:12

    NNAMDIAnd this one from Costa, "I was wondering if Mr. Ruiz could discuss the potential issues with students from countries like Iran studying engineering in the United States, and how that education could potentially enable them to pursue careers back in Iran that could potentially end up directly in contrast to U.S. security considerations." First you, Neil Ruiz.

  • 12:47:35

    RUIZYeah, I think Costa brings out a very good question. I mean I -- when I look at the data and I was sifting through it, I was surprised when I saw that Iran, especially from Tehran, the large majority of them were studying for PhDs in the STEM fields, in specifically engineering. But I think that what this tells us, I mean, is that we're getting very smart, very intelligent students who are coming here. And we're -- it's a danger to kind of make it hard for them to stay.

  • 12:48:01

    RUIZSo especially for Iran, we would have an interest in trying to keep them here in the United States so that it could use their knowledge and access to our top, you know, research innovations here in the U.S. to be for the United States' innovation. So I think even though they're talented and we wouldn't want them to go back. We should want them to stay here.

  • 12:48:20

    NNAMDIAnd we got another longer email from R.M., in Chevy Chase. So bear with me. "Your guest's statistics, 4 percent foreign students overall at U.S. institutions, is misleading. When you speak about the best schools in the U.S. At some schools, including best liberal arts colleges and Ivy League schools, undergraduate foreign students make up easily 10 to 15 percent of undergrads or more. And in graduate schools, programs may be 30 percent or more.

  • 12:48:45

    NNAMDI"I sit on an advisory board for a well-known liberal arts college and we have frequently addressed this issue in the -- primarily in the context of getting more full-tuition-paying foreign students to help offset the costs of aid for increasingly needy domestic students. And secondarily, as a global diversity issues. I've often found myself a lone voice in arguing that we have an obligation to educate U.S. students first. Students whom we turn away from elite schools in large numbers.

  • 12:49:14

    NNAMDI"Given the amount of money our government spends on research and grants at these elite institutions -- Harvard, Stanford, for example -- I think we do need to consider how much competitive advantage we may be giving away to other countries. We need to keep in mind that every U.S. student we do not educate to the best of his or her ability to learn, may be putting us at a competitive disadvantage." First you, Fanta.

  • 12:49:38

    AWWell, I think the person who asked the question, I think there are some real issues. And I absolutely agree that some of these issues we need to look at them very carefully. I think part of that has to do, again, with what I had mentioned earlier, which is also the state of just education in this country. And the implications of that I think are real.

  • 12:50:00

    AWI think the other piece that I think the question poses has to do with sort of the segmentation when it comes to fields of study and where you see sort of larger numbers of international students studying versus what the domestic capacity might be for those different areas. And, in particular, when we're talking about the STEM fields, again, we have to ask ourselves this fundamental question, what is happening with science education in this country?

  • 12:50:28

    NNAMDIIt points to the fact that our own science education system is -- might be broken.

  • 12:50:35


  • 12:50:36


  • 12:50:37

    RUIZYeah, I mean, this is a big concern. I think it comes for universities to think are they a national university or a global university. And just to give you an example from my alma mater, from MIT, which is a very scientific university. It's -- they kind of tackle it in a different way. For undergraduates they cap the number of international students at 7 percent. So they made it an effort to say we are a national university serving Americans, our national population.

  • 12:51:05

    RUIZBut then when it comes to graduate school it's an open market. We're a global university. We want the best and brightest to be in our PhD and Masters programs here. So I think that every university around the United States can think about it. And everyone's going to have different debates within them, but I think that that's probably the best way to think about it.

  • 12:51:22

    NNAMDIHere's Roger, in Bethesda, Md. Roger, your turn.

  • 12:51:25

    ROGERHi there, Kojo. I totally agree with the email concerning the 4 percent. This is not real. And I've seen it personally. And I had a nephew that graduated in stem cell research out of Princeton. He got his PhD. And he was the only black American in the program for about three years. And he said the majority of the kids were foreigners in all those programs. The same thing with a niece of mine which went to Williams. 15 percent of her graduating class were foreign students. So the best schools are bringing in a much higher percentage of foreigners.

  • 12:52:05

    ROGERWhich leads to the point that you -- I think the panelists are not understanding. India's population is a billion people or close to it or very -- a large amount. And when you take the cream of that population which can afford to send their foreign students to the United States, that is a drop in the bucket compared to the American students which are not going to be forced or pushed at the lower education level to be able to qualify for those higher education positions that they're taking away.

  • 12:52:35

    ROGERAnd if the colleges here in the United States take away the ability for -- and give it to foreigners, they will never have any incentive to push and develop the education system in the United States so that we can have our own scientists from local -- the local market.

  • 12:52:51


  • 12:52:51

    AWSo one point of clarification, again, I think we need to look at what's happening at an undergraduate level. First it's what happening at a graduate level, because the picture is quite different. And we can spend some time on that that we don't really have today. But I think it's important to really look at sort of those two segments. That's one thing.

  • 12:53:09

    AWThe second thing is going back to the comment about those students who are coming here who are paying and who can afford to come to the U.S. to study. At the graduate level that is not the case in the STEM fields. The majority of these students are coming to the U.S. because they have tremendous talent and abilities in those fields. And in coming in, many times are really coming in because there are resources that are available at the graduate level to support research.

  • 12:53:38

    AWThis is not to say that in this country we do not have students who are extremely capable. There are. But there's also an underlying element to this issue which is how do we incentivize that. At the graduate level, when it comes to the science field, it is difficult to find that pool that we're talking about. More and more of those students look at MBAs, look at these other fields.

  • 12:54:01

    AWNow, there are reasons why they're doing that. It has to do with market conditions. It has to do with the state of education K through 12. And all of that. And I think it's important that we keep those in mind when we have -- when we talk about this issue in particular.

  • 12:54:13

    NNAMDIA couple of clarifications. We got an email from Maria, who said, "I'm afraid that some of your listeners may confuse University of Northern Virginia, which was an infamous VISA mill and is now defunct, with the legitimate and exceptional community college, which is Northern Virginia Community College. We have many international students, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Jordan, South Korea, Nepal, China, Latin America, Western African countries, Vietnam, Indonesia. Please make this clarification on the air."

  • 12:54:41

    NNAMDIMaria, consider the clarification made. We got an email from Susan, who writes, "Wondering if the huge non-native international population that lives and works here year round is part of the reason international students come to this region. It's extremely diverse. They can find nearly every type of ethnic store, food community. It's truly a global village. Lots of support, emotionally and physically, things important to feeling at home.

  • 12:55:06

    NNAMDI"Also, of course, the World Bank, other international development agencies have home offices where. There are organizations that easily and frequently hire non-U.S. citizens or those who are native, USA born. A lot of opportunities here, white-collar and blue-collar." And this tweet from Leena, "As an international student, D.C. appealed because of opportunities and interests, great transit system and amazing diversity, easy to blend in."

  • 12:55:30

    NNAMDINeil, we look at this data, we see that Seoul, South Korea sends the second-most foreign students to this region and the most student to the U.S. overall. Right here in Northern Virginia we have a huge Korean diaspora, who've lived in places like Annandale for decades. How do these preexisting communities interact with and influence foreign student population?

  • 12:55:53

    RUIZI mean that's -- first thing is food. And that's the biggest thing because once you have a big population of South Koreans there are a lot of restaurants and a lot of markets. But I just want to give you an example of South Korea in Los Angeles, actually. Where you had chairman Zhou of Korean Airlines, he was an alumni of University of Southern California, USC, which is the top destination of foreign students. He sent -- he loved it in L.A. He sent all his sons and daughters to USC. And now he does a lot of economic kind of relations with the Los Angeles region.

  • 12:56:28

    RUIZAnd he's now building the tallest building west of the Mississippi, in Los Angeles. That is one alumni who would make a big impact and impact a lot of job opportunities in Los Angeles because he feels his hometown of L.A. and Seoul is interconnected. And that's how many foreign students feel because when they land in their school, this is their home away from home.

  • 12:56:52

    NNAMDIFanta, we're running out of time, but we talked a little bit earlier about the social forces that seem to influence where students decide to attend university here in the U.S. You argue that these decisions really have huge economic impacts years after students graduate because they end up influencing what jobs people take and indeed what jobs entire immigrant communities become associated with. Why is that important?

  • 12:57:16

    AWWell, I think that's important because, again, it's sort of this long-term view. Right? It's this long-term view that we know from research that students, in making a decision to move from their home county or their town, to go to another part of the world to study, they're looking at it as a long-term decision. It is not just about coming and getting an education. But it's really, again, about how does this increase their human capital? And as a result of the increase in human capital, how does that make them more mobile and globally mobile. Right?

  • 12:57:48

    AWAnd so as a result, they may decide to stay in the local area, as Neil's research pointed out to. But we also know that in the long run they tend to go elsewhere and continue with sort of the contributions that they're making. And I think that's a very important part of the story as well.

  • 12:58:02

    NNAMDIFanta Aw is an assistant vice president of Campus Life and lecturer in the School of International Service, at American University. So good to see you again. Thank you for joining us.

  • 12:58:10

    AWThank you, Kojo.

  • 12:58:11

    NNAMDINeil Ruiz is senior policy analyst and fellow at the Metropolitan Policy Program at Brookings Institution. His new report is titled, "The Geography of Foreign Students in the U.S. Higher Education: Origins and Destinations." Neil, thank you for joining us.

  • 12:58:23

    RUIZThank you, Kojo, for having me.

  • 12:58:24

    NNAMDIThank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

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