WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The number of foreign students pursuing advanced degrees at U.S. universities fell this year, strengthening a trend that began after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, according to a report released on Wednesday.
"This survey confirms, as we have suspected for some time, that most of the nation's leading research universities are experiencing declines in international graduate enrollment," said Nils Hasselmo, president of the Association of American Universities.
"The major factors are U.S. visa policy, increased international competition and perceptions that the United States is no longer a welcoming country," he said.
The survey conducted by five higher education organizations led by the Association of International Educators found that nearly half of the 480 colleges surveyed reported a decline in new enrollments of overseas graduate students compared to last year, while just under a quarter reported an increase.
However, among schools with the greatest foreign enrollments -- some two dozen universities that each enroll 2,500 foreign students -- nearly two thirds reported falling numbers both of new and continuing graduate students. The report did not give raw numbers or quantify the decline in absolute terms.
The trend was less pronounced among undergraduates. Still, in the universities with the largest foreign student bodies, 54 percent reported a decline in numbers while 32 percent said their numbers had grown.
WARNING FOR SOME TIME
University heads have been warning for some time that new, stringent security requirements put into place after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, have deterred large numbers of foreign students from coming to the United States.
At least one of the Sept. 11 hijackers entered the country on a student visa. After that, Congress mandated the establishment of a computerized system in which all foreign students are registered and can be tracked.
Graduate school applications from international students declined 32 percent from 2003 to 2004, the Council of Graduate Schools reported earlier this year.
Foreign students and their dependents pump an estimated $13 billion a year into the U.S. economy. Even more importantly, education officials argue that talented graduate students, especially in engineering, science and technology, bring invaluable talent to the United States.
Marlene Johnson of the Association of International Educators said the Bush administration was aware of the situation and was trying to address some of the obstacles discouraging or preventing legitimate scholars and students from coming to the United States.
"The bad news is that, despite some positive signs, overall the numbers are still discouraging," she said. "We have to remember that losing this market is like losing a forest to fire. It happens very quickly."
The Department of Homeland Security said earlier this year there were some 580,000 students and 190,000 exchange visitors in this country. The top five countries sending foreign students were South Korea (news - web sites), India, China, Japan and Taiwan.
The survey found that Chinese and Korean students appeared to be coming to study in the United States in equal or greater numbers than before but the numbers from India, Indonesia and Saudi Arabia were down.
FONTAINEBLEAU, France — After the whirl of French rush-hour traffic and stops for snapshots, Chen Guolin finally got to relax in the verdant gardens of Chateau Fontainebleau, where Napoleon luxuriated between military campaigns.
She'd been touched, she said, by the almost accentless "ni hao" — hello in Chinese — with which French ground staff welcomed her when her group arrived the previous evening. She marveled at Fontainebleau's tranquility.
"If this was China, there would be people everywhere," she said.
Above all, her first day ever outside China had taught her a lesson: Just seeing Paris, first stop on a 15-day swing through France and Spain, confirmed to her that her homeland is on the rise.
"I really don't feel as if there's any difference," said Chen, a construction engineer. "Seeing overseas makes you love your country even more."
Trip by trip, a tourism revolution is doing as much as diplomacy and billions of dollars of trade to build bridges with the West.
Armed with digital cameras and videocams, and still connected to home by cellphone, Chinese with a pent-up hunger for fresh experiences, cultures and shopping are heading in droves to countries that a few decades back were as inaccessible to most of them as the moon.
Last year, Chinese for the first time overtook Japanese as Asia's biggest travelers, making 20.2 million visits, China's tourism administration says.
Europe is bracing for a Chinese surge following a tourism pact that simplifies visa procedures for Chinese tour groups and allows Chinese travel agents to advertise European destinations.
The impact of the agreement, which took effect Sept. 1, promises to be dramatic: France, the world's top tourist destination, expects as many as 1.5 million Chinese next year, up from 300,000 to 400,000 last year.
Through travel, Chinese are learning about the world, themselves and their country, and teaching the world a little about modern China.
"Apart from the language, I really don't feel like I've left home. The stores are as smart as back home, just more expensive," said Hua Mingwei, a 51-year-old Chinese tourist stocking up on perfume with his wife at the Galeries Lafayette department store.
Poverty, history, culture and politics long conspired to delay the advent of mass Chinese tourism, whose effects are now being felt from Paris to Auckland, Las Vegas to Sydney.
As recently as 15 years ago, when cheaper air travel was unlocking the world to Western tourists, the few coming from China were mostly state representatives and people with relatives overseas. For most Chinese, life elsewhere was seen largely through the prism of TV and other media controlled by a Communist Party long suspicious of the West.
And who could afford foreign travel when phones, TVs or even bicycles were luxuries? Getting passports was a bureaucratic obstacle course. The government wasn't keen on travelers squandering precious hard currency overseas and returning — if they returned — with dazzling tales of the West's luxuries and freedoms.
Capitalist reforms and stunning economic growth have brought skiing in Korea, golfing in Nevada, shopping in Tokyo and dining in France within reach of millions of middle-class Chinese.
They still call China "Zhongguo," the Middle Kingdom, center of the world. But as well as cars and IKEA furniture, they want travel experiences overseas and are the targets of ads like this one in the Shanghai Morning Post: "Seclusion in a castle, in the forest, in a log cabin. Germany, France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg. Eight Days for Five European Countries for under 10,000 yuan!"
That's $1,210, about what Hu Jie likely paid for the Japanese camera with which he merrily shot photos at Fontainebleau. A manager at a Chinese air-conditioning firm, he's a seasoned traveler, having previously worked in France. He led the group of 22 people, including Chen.
On their tour bus, they talked about Paris. They're hard customers. The streets are cleaner at home, said one. And the Champs-Elysees, which the French call the world's most beautiful boulevard? Not as wide as the Avenue of Heavenly Peace in Beijing, they scoffed.
"China's got 5,000 years of history. When you travel overseas, you realize that other countries can't compete," said one.
By 2020, the World Tourism Organization predicts, Chinese will be the world's fourth most prolific travelers, taking 100 million trips, trailing the U.S., Germany and Japan.
That's a market tourism officials and hoteliers can't ignore.
"Their economy, their wealth, their ability and their inclination to travel is very, very strong," said Bruce Bommarito, executive director of the Nevada Commission on Tourism. "It's very important that we stay at the top of the curve."
While millions of Chinese tourists are flocking to Europe, not even the retired president of a major airline in China could persuade U.S. immigration officials to let him cross the Canadian border to visit an old friend an hour away in Anacortes.
A third of the Chinese delegates who planned to attend an economics conference in Seattle this week won't be here. Of the 48 senior government economists and business executives invited, only 32 could get visas.
"These are leaders in China, not taxi drivers or street sellers. It doesn't make us look very good," said Joseph Borich, executive director of the Washington State China Relations Council. The council is one of the sponsors of The U.S.-China Economic Relations Summit in Seattle on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Opposition is growing
The difficulty Chinese citizens face in obtaining U.S. visas is provoking a growing outcry from business people and others seeking to build relations with China. They say the situation is damaging educational and business efforts, not to mention stifling potential tourism.
After the terrorist attacks against the United States three years ago, the already cumbersome visa process became even stricter, with longer waits and fewer visitors admitted. Universities have complained that they are losing top Chinese graduate students, and many current students are afraid to return home during breaks.
"I'm not knocking the need to maintain secure borders, but somewhere we have to come up with a better solution," Borich said. "We have obviously way overshot the mark."
According to the American Chamber of Commerce in China, which promotes the interests of U.S. business in China, inefficient visa processes are costing American companies billions of dollars a year in lost business.
Gov. Gary Locke has criticized those processes, but as a state official, he has limited influence.
"U.S. visa policies and processes simply must improve," Locke told the Hong Kong Chamber of Commerce during his visit last month.
Europe grabs opportunity
Approvals can take up to a year, he said. "It has a very negative impact on business and cultural exchange, often making it pointless to even try to explore opportunities."
Meanwhile, places like Europe are seizing the opportunity that the United States is missing.
Chinese engage in a domestic traveling frenzy on major holidays, and now the Chinese government is encouraging more people to travel abroad, said Wang Zhigang, a senior manager at China International Travel Service in Beijing, which promotes tours to China.
"If America opened the door, millions of Chinese would come here," he said. "If they're going outside China for the first time, I bet they will choose America."
But for vast majority, that door remains closed.
China has some restrictions of its own, but this year it has been moving to sign visa and tourism agreements with dozens of countries. The United States has not been among them. The Chinese were particularly angered by a new rule requiring fingerprinting of U.S. visa applicants.
Despite the fact that the screening process is more rigorous and the number of applicants has grown, the staff for visa processing in China has not increased over the past several years, said Borich, a former U.S. Consul General in Shanghai.
"Applicants for a visa must show they're not an intending immigrant. That test has never changed," U.S. State Department spokesman Steve Pike told the Associated Press. "That requires us to know ... does the person have sufficient ties, whether they're personal, professional, business, financial, that convince the consular office that they're going to go home."
Showing sufficient ties usually requires leaving something behind, like a spouse or child. Such restrictions are hardly conducive to tourism, says Anacortes business consultant Thomas Hsueh.
"What a big market for us, and here we are doing everything to sabotage it," he said.
When Hsueh heard that an old friend from China and his wife were spending the summer with their son in Vancouver, B.C., Hsueh encouraged them to apply for a U.S. visa and visit Washington state. When Hsueh had gone to China on business, his friends had taken good care of him, and he wanted to return the favor.
The man, Zhang Ruipu, had just retired from his job as president of Xinjiang Airlines, a job that had taken him to Seattle several times to purchase jets from Boeing, Hsueh said. But he had never stayed very long nor been able to bring his wife.
When Hsueh's friends were called in for a visa interview two months later, he rushed home from Europe, expecting to be able to see them. But the case officer was not convinced the couple would return to China, and their application was denied.
Hsueh was incredulous. He appealed the decision and even offered to pay a bond for them, but without success.
"How can we do this to someone who has spent billions to buy our products? We let them in for that, but the minute they're out, they can't even come to visit an old friend. They were treated like criminals."
With more money and opportunities at home, today's Chinese travelers have little incentive to stay here illegally, he said.
Of course, some have, and there are agencies in China that specialize in helping smuggle Chinese into the United States for a fee. But their numbers are tiny compared with throngs of newly prosperous Chinese out to see the world, says Hsueh.
Washington state could reap huge benefits if Chinese tourists were allowed in. So far, the state's marketing efforts are focused on other areas like Japan and Western Europe, said Peter McMillin, state tourism director.
But that could change.
The state is looking toward the 2008 Olympics in Beijing as a venue to promote Washington and attract tourists coming to the Olympic winter games two years later in Vancouver, B.C., he said.
As for now, tourism officials from 13 Western states are meeting with federal agencies to discuss the visa issue.
"We want to make sure the federal government is not creating a problem for visitors to Washington state," McMillin said. "Any time you add a new layer of review on to visas, that does tend to slow things down."
While it doesn't have California's beaches or New York's skyscrapers, this area has a lot to attract Chinese visitors, says Wang, of the China International Travel Service. Namely, Microsoft, Boeing and abundant forests so rare now in China.
Even if Chinese people can't get here, he says, "Luckily enough, we can stay at home, drink tea and watch the NBA live."
Kristi Heim: 206-464-2718 or email@example.com
01 September 2004
More than two dozen European countries rolled out the red carpet for a new wave of wealthy Chinese tourists Wednesday as an agreement between Beijing and the EU on trips by private tour groups came into effect.
Hotel managers, shop owners and museum curators across the continent were busily preparing for the arrival of the Chinese travelers, teaching their employees a few phrases in Mandarin and printing up floor maps in Chinese.
"The infrastructures in France are up to scratch, and the industry is really aware of this new market and waiting for them as if they were Santa Claus," says Patricia Tartour, president of French tour operator Maison de la Chine.
France, Italy and Switzerland are the top three destinations among potential Chinese holidaymakers, travel agents say, with most tours offering travelers the opportunity to visit several countries during one trip.
Under a series of accords signed by Beijing, organized tour groups can now travel throughout the 25-member European Union -- save for Britain, Denmark and Ireland -- and in Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, Romania and Switzerland.
A total of 53 countries around the world have been named "authorized destinations" by the Chinese government.
For most of those tourists heading to Europe, the main draws are the continent's cultural landmarks -- and its vast array of boutiques.
In Paris, the first group due to arrive on Wednesday was scheduled to visit the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, go on a Seine river cruise and take in a show at the famous Moulin Rouge cabaret before heading to Italy and Switzerland.
Highlighting the importance of the new Chinese market for Paris, France's junior tourism minister Leon Bertrand was due to greet the group of 50 visitors at Charles de Gaulle airport outside the capital.
Some 300,000 to 400,000 Chinese came to France on professional or family visas last year, but according to various estimates, that number could double to between 600,000 and 800,000 by 2005 and top the one-million mark in five years.
In terms of fine dining, most experts agree that Chinese tourists are more comfortable eating in restaurants that remind them of home, but some of the French capital's larger brasseries are preparing foie gras and escargots.
In Rome, junior foreign trade minister Adolfo Urso said simply: "This is a unique historic opportunity for Italy."
Swiss industry professionals say Chinese tourists now spend an average of two nights in the Alpine country and spend roughly 450 Swiss francsdollars, 350 euros) a day plus hotel fees.
The Netherlands has played the celebrity card, hiring Dutch-born Chinese Formula One driver Ho Pin Tung to persuade Chinese holidaymakers to visit the country. Dutch diamond dealers have already recruited Mandarin speakers.
Officials in Spain, the world's second-most visited tourist destination after France, say the Chinese market presents "enormous growth potential".
According to Jesus Martinez Millan, president of the Spanish confederation of travel agencies, most Chinese visitors come to Spain to see its cultural treasures like the Prado museum in Madrid and the works of Catalan architect Antonio Gaudi in Barcelona.
Elliot Frisby, a spokesman for the official British travel promotion service Visit Britain, said his country hoped to be granted "authorized destination" status sometime in September.
"Once we have that, we can start marketing and start showing Chinese citizens all that makes Britain a great destination to come to," he told AFP.
According to Chinese state media, 20.2 million Chinese tourists travelled abroad in 2003, up 21 percent from the previous year.
The Bush administration's new visa policies have exasperated one of its traditional constituencies: big business.
In blunt language, corporate leaders have stressed that the smooth conduct of business is threatened by visa delays, and they chafe at what they regard as the government's reluctance to deploy adequate manpower to handle the additional requirements.
Some top business associations have publicly questioned the State Department's insistence that the majority of travelers are not badly inconvenienced by the new policies.
"State controls the numbers, so who knows?" said Randel Johnson, vice president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. "But companies that aren't ordinarily critical of the government are having lots of problems, and they're willing to say so publicly. I don't think things are getting any better."
Trouble at the Mayo
The institutions affected range from huge industrial concerns to some of the nation's most renowned hospitals.
The nonprofit Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., has been plagued by delays in visas for foreign doctors and researchers, which has made a mess of day-to-day appointment schedules, according to Bruce Larson, director of the clinic's International Personnel Office. Foreign physicians and scientists at the clinic have also been prevented from traveling abroad for professional conferences.
In the past two years, visa problems have contributed to the Mayo Clinic's loss of hundreds of foreign patients, particularly from the Middle East, many of whom have chosen to seek treatment in Britain instead, officials said.
"We've had cases where children were granted visas for medical treatment, but their parents were denied," said Misty Hathaway of the clinic's Office of International Relations. "Previously, patients were able to get visas for medical treatment in a matter of days. Now it's weeks and sometimes months, and some of the patients are quite ill."
South Korea cited
Major corporations and the tourism industry have cited South Korea, the United States' sixth-largest export market and the fifth-largest source of foreign visitors, as especially hard hit; South Korean travelers spent $2.1 billion in this country last year.
With the introduction of the new policy Aug. 1 requiring consular interviews for most visa applicants, people have waited up to two months for those meetings in the South Korean capital, Seoul; even in the current autumn lull, it is taking about a month.
Calling the regulations ill-coordinated and poorly communicated, American business leaders said they are certain to do damage to U.S. interests there.
Copyright ?2003 The Seattle Times Company
AUSTIN, Texas ?Educators have expressed anxiety that new visa rules are discouraging international students from studying in the United States, depriving American universities of a vital source of diversity, intellectual energy and tuition.
The universities are being put at a competitive disadvantage against institutions in Canada, Britain and Australia in the contest for top-flight international students and scholars, they say.
In recent decades, the influx of foreign students has been crucial to the strength of U.S. universities and technology companies. Nearly 40 percent of engineering faculty members in the United States are foreign-born, as are a third of American Nobel Prize winners.
"Foreign students are important because many go home and bring back an understanding and appreciation of the United States and often become leaders and help establish business relationships," said Peter Spear, provost of the University of Wisconsin at Madison.
Spear said that at his school, where more than 10 percent of the 41,000 undergraduate and 8,800 graduate students are foreigners, undergraduate applications from overseas dropped by 14 percent this year, partly because of new visa rules.
"There's some evidence that people who are worried about the climate here or getting their visas on time are starting to avoid the U.S.," he said.
In interviews with more than a half-dozen officials from major research universities, none said they knew of any case in which drawn-out security checks of foreign students and scholars yielded information tying them to terrorism. And the officials expressed frustration that in the minority of cases that get stuck for months, they are unable to learn the status of the security check or do anything to hasten it.
In a case this year, Dennis Eremin, a 28-year-old Russian physicist, had to wait 10 months to re-enter the United States to complete his work for a doctorate at the University of Texas at Austin. He had already spent five years in Texas before leaving in 2001 to get married.
"I had two theories," said Eremin. "The first was the reluctance of (U.S.) consular representatives to attend to my case, or the sheer ineffectiveness of their work. The second one was paranoia."
University officials acknowledge that visas are granted relatively quickly for most of the 1 million foreign students and scholars in the United States. Nonetheless, they say cases like Eremin's are too common.
"If you're stopped by a policeman, they check the database in their laptop in the car in maybe 30 seconds," said Larry Bell, director of international education at the University of Colorado at Boulder. "These are maybe larger and more sophisticated (FBI) databases, but it's a large leap from a 30-second check to a six-month check."
Copyright ?2003 The Seattle Times Company
AUSTIN, Texas ?More than two years after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, a thicket of new rules governing the granting of visas to foreigners is dissuading thousands of people from coming to the United States and generating protests from research universities, medical institutions, multinational corporations and the travel industry.
Because of the new regulations, U.S. universities have lost students and scholars; corporations have suffered production delays, friction with customers and personnel problems; and foreign tourists and conventioneers have decided by the thousands to take their business elsewhere.
Increasingly, U.S. leaders in education, business and science are warning that the procedural obstacles thrown up to screen security threats have fostered a bureaucratic "culture of no" that discounts the benefits that foreigners bring to the United States.
Bush administration officials defend the new rules, saying they are keeping terrorists from entering the country. "In the post-9-11 environment, we do not believe that the issues at stake allow us the luxury of erring on the side of expeditious processing," Janice Jacobs, deputy assistant secretary of state for visa services, told a congressional committee earlier this year.
But many critics caution that by requiring foreigners to wait weeks or months for visas, Washington is damaging its efforts at public diplomacy. They say the United States is sending a hostile message to the world at a time that the Iraq war and other U.S. policies have dimmed perceptions of America.
"Our commercial, research and academic institutions have always benefited from the open exchange of people, knowledge and ideas," said Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif. "We need to protect ourselves. But we don't want to go too far and lose the rewards of an open society."
Penelope Smith of the Homeland Security Department demonstrates inkless fingerprint scanning at a news conference Oct. 28 in Washington, D.C. Starting Jan. 5, the government intends to fingerprint all visa-bearing travelers who arrive at U.S. airports and seaports.
All 19 of the Sept. 11 hijackers entered the United States on valid visas, most of them without being interviewed by an American consular officer. Mindful of that, the Bush administration adopted extensive new policies governing visas, the latest of which took effect Aug. 1.
The most significant include a requirement for face-to-face interviews for hundreds of thousands of visa-seekers who previously were excused from such interviews, and the withholding of visas for certain categories of people until the FBI runs name checks to determine that they do not appear to be a threat. That process can take months.
The administration also granted the Department of Homeland Security control of most visa rule-making decisions, as well as vetoes over visas issued overseas, previously the exclusive province of the State Department.
Starting Jan. 5, the government intends to fingerprint all visa-bearing travelers who arrive at airports and seaports. Next October, visitors who do not require visas ?mostly people from Western Europe and Canada ? will have to have machine-readable passports. In addition, people issued non-immigrant visas abroad will be fingerprinted when obtaining the visa.
The new regulations have created special hindrances and holdups for people from Islamic countries that are the subject of concerns about terrorism. Visitors from South Korea and Brazil, which rank among the top 10 countries sending people to the United States, also have faced weeks-long delays in applying for visas. Chinese and Russians, particularly in scientific and technological fields, also have met extensive difficulties in securing visas.
Even British citizens working for U.S. companies overseas are facing waits of a month or two to obtain longer-term work visas, a process that once took less than two weeks.
Some recent examples:
?Amway ruled out Los Angeles and Hawaii as possible convention sites for about 8,000 South Korean distributors next year in the face of a requirement that they all complete face-to-face interviews with U.S. consular officials. The convention is to be held in Japan. Amway estimates the distributors would have spent an average of $1,250 per person on U.S. airlines, hotels and shops, meaning a loss of more than $10 million for the would-be host city.
?UCLA Medical Center scrambled to fill a staffing gap when one of its three pediatric heart surgeons, a Pakistani, was waylaid in Karachi for seven months awaiting a new visa. The doctor, Faiz Bhora, had just completed 10 years of medical training in the United States.
?Ingersoll-Rand, a multinational corporation with $9.6 billion in annual sales and 50,000 employees worldwide, has been waiting for nearly two months to ship a $2.5 million compressor to an energy concern in Sichuan province in China. The hang-up: getting visas for five Chinese engineers and an interpreter for an inspection visit.
"They think they can put in all these security processes and still keep business flowing, but it's not happening," said Elizabeth Dickson, who handles immigration and visa matters for Ingersoll-Rand. "I see a culture of no because no consular officer wants to be the next one to issue a visa to a terrorist. But that means they're treating everyone as a terrorist."
State Department officials and the FBI, which handles background checks for visa applicants, acknowledge it has been a struggle to implement the new programs, procedures and technologies. Months-long delays and backlogs for visa applicants nearly paralyzed the system in 2002, many government officials have said.
But officials insist most of the worst kinks have been worked out, and for the most part they are unapologetic. In the effort to safeguard borders as well as open doors, the Bush administration has struck the right balance, they say. Much of the falloff in foreign visitors can be blamed on the global economic downturn, they say.
The government has broadened the fields that trigger FBI name checks for applicants ?a list of 200 scientific and technical specialties that now includes not only expertise in arms and munitions and nuclear technology, but also landscape architecture, geography, community development, housing and urban design.
Critics say the list is too broad and could make it more difficult to spot the terrorist needle in an ever-expanding haystack.
Because of the broader criteria, the bureau is processing about 1,000 name checks per business day, twice the number it handled two years ago, despite a sharp dip in the number of travelers.
Jacobs, the deputy assistant secretary of state, and other officials argue that FBI name checks are not a significant drag on travel to the United States.
To help expedite these checks, the FBI has created a team of 40 agents. And in any case, the bureau reports that only a small percentage of the millions of visa applicants are subjected to the checks ?scarcely more than 2 percent ?and that most of those are completed in days.
Of 8,503 requests for the most common security checks for non-immigrant visa applicants received by the FBI in August, for instance, all but 373 had been resolved by Oct. 1, according to the bureau. Most were resolved in a few days, it said. Officials also report that the portion of applicants who are refused a visa ?about 25 percent ?has remained virtually stable over the past three years.
"Persons of interest"
FBI officials say the intensified screenings, which also include name checks for most male applicants from a list of 26 predominantly Muslim nations, have turned up an unspecified number of "persons of interest."
Officials do acknowledge, however, that the requirement for in-person interviews has created long delays for hundreds of thousands of visa-seekers. In some countries where securing a visa once took a few days, people now routinely wait weeks for an interview.
The State Department is adding 79 consular officers to the 843 positions it already has, but the delays persist.
"The problem is that the administration has made all these new requirements for face-to-face interviews and adding background checks but has not provided adequate resources to fund them," said Waxman, the California Democrat.
Copyright ?2003 The Seattle Times Company