Sunday, May 9, 2004

UH-Manoa sees drop
in foreign applicants

University officials cite strict
visa regulations for a sharp
decline in graduate applications

Part 1 in a series

The number of international students applying to the University of Hawaii-Manoa plummeted this year, and admissions officials blame tighter security measures that make it harder for students to get U.S. visas.

Graduate school applications are down 28 percent from last year to about 1,300 applicants compared with about 1,800 last year. UH-Manoa also received 100 fewer undergraduate applications than last year, a 22 percent drop, officials said.

"It's hard to get a visa. It's an unfriendly process," said Peter Garrod, associate dean of the graduate division.

Meanwhile, other countries like Australia, Great Britain, and Canada are successfully recruiting more students, he said. "We're being mean and nasty and other places are being nicer."

A drop in applications doesn't necessarily mean there will be fewer international students, Garrod said. A lot depends on how many students are accepted, whether they decide to come here, and whether they are given visas.

But the decline in applications and the tighter security are interfering with UH's efforts to build the university as a center for international studies, especially for Asian students, said Jenny Samaan, director of UH-Manoa's Office of International Education.

"I think it is very hard to build yourself as an international or global university if you do not have the physical presence, the thoughts, ideas and perspectives of international students," Samaan said.

Most of the decline in applications and the problems seem to involve students from China, UH officials said.

Kate Zhou, an associate professor of political science, said since Sept. 11, 2001, her department has not been able to bring in any graduate students from China.

"Those students come here to study democracy," she said. How, she asked, can China improve its human rights and develop democracy if Chinese students aren't allowed to study in the United States?

Last year, Zhou said the political science department admitted five students from China, but none was allowed to come to Hawaii because their visa applications were denied.

"I think this is hurting our graduate program. I think it's hurting future science programs in the United States," said Fred Harris, a professor of physics and astronomy at UH-Manoa.

Harris said he works with scientists at the Institute for High Energy Physics in Beijing. A student there who was accepted last year and wants to come to Hawaii for his doctorate has been denied three times for a visa.

He said the U.S. embassy fears he will not return to China, even though the institute has guaranteed the student a position in Beijing after he finishes at UH-Manoa.

"To a great extent the success of our science has been because we've been open to students coming from abroad," Harris said. If international students aren't allowed to come to the U.S. to help advance science and technology, "I think its eventually going to hurt technology and our economy," he said.

The State Department issued 474,000 student visas last year, accepting 74 percent of applications. That's down from 560,000, and 80 percent, in 2001.

Kelly Shannon, a spokeswoman for the State Department's Bureau of Consular Affairs, said her agency and the Department of Homeland Security are trying to "strike the right balance between protecting our borders and maintaining an open society."

Secretary of State Colin Powell and Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge called last month for Congress to review visa restrictions, and Ridge discussed visas at a recent meeting with college presidents.

"We all want foreign students to continue to come here," said Russ Knocke, a spokesman for the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Division of the Homeland Security Department. "We want the United States to continue to be the destination for education."

Shannon said staff were overwhelmed by the increase in security reviews immediately after 9/11, but "we've now improved the system."

Nationwide, more than 90 percent of graduate schools reported their foreign applications for this fall declined, according to a survey of 113 universities last month by the Council of Graduate Schools.

International graduate student applications for this fall are down by an average of 32 percent across the country compared with a year ago, according to a recent survey.

Foreign students often pay higher tuition and soak up little financial aid because they must demonstrate financial self-reliance to get a visa. More than 75 percent of their funding comes from outside the country, according to the Institute of International Education. Foreign students also contribute $12 billion to the U.S. economy, according to the institute.

Private universities in Hawaii are not seeing the same drop-off in applications, largely because they mostly deal with undergraduate students and have a more diverse international student body.

At Brigham Young University-Hawaii, Mike Sudlow, director of international admissions, said a visiting professor from China was denied a visa to teach. That has never happened before, he said.

Sudlow said BYU-H has few students from China and India, where visa problems seem to be the worst. But he said a requirement that all visa applicants be interviewed in person is creating problems for students from remote South Pacific nations.

Students from Vanuatu must fly to Australia and then to New Guinea to interview at the U.S. Embassy in Papua. The flight costs $800 and the average income for Vanuatu is $1,200 a year, Sudlow said.

"For us to ask them to pay $800 for a round-trip ticket just to get a visa is more than we ask them for a whole year to study here," he said.

"Kids from Tahiti have to fly to Suva, Fiji," which can cost up to $1,500, he added.

Scott Stensrud, associate vice president for enrollment at Hawaii Pacific University, said the number of undergraduate admissions remains high at HPU because of the school's continued efforts to work with students to get visas and because of travel by school officials to other countries to recruit students.

"We're not dependent on any one country," he said.

But he noted that the school won't know until late this summer if visas will be granted to the international students accepted at HPU.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

International students

Total number of foreign students in Hawaii: 5,437 for 2002/2003 school year
Estimated spending by international students in Hawaii: $112.8 million

Where they are

HPU: 1,682
UH-Manoa: 1,613
BYU-Hawaii: 1,048

Where they are from

Japan 24.1 percent
Korea 9.5 percent
Taiwan 9 percent
China 7.9 percent
Sweden 3.6 percent

What they study

Business and Management 29.4 percent
Social Sciences 13.6 percent
Other 12.3 percent
Math and Computer Science 10.3 percent
Intensive English 9.3 percent
Source: Institute for International Education


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