- A senior state department official said the U.S. welcomes Chinese students, but colleges should take steps to help them "live, study and eat alongside their American and international peers" to stave off efforts by China to negatively impact their views of the U.S.
- The comments — made by Marie Royce, assistant secretary of state for educational and cultural affairs, at an event in Washington — underscore the ongoing trade war with China. She blamed misinformation by the Chinese government for a negative view of the U.S. visa process.
- Royce's speech drew mixed reactions from higher ed observers. Some took issue with her effective denial of visa delays. Others said her message should be reflected in policy and action, such as by making visa processes more efficient.
Royce's comments come as U.S. colleges balance maintaining a steady supply of international students with specific security concerns around intellectual property and research. Meanwhile, heightened foreign visa scrutiny and reported delays in work approvals for some students and scholars are making it more difficult for international students and academics to come to the U.S.
Enrollment of new international students at U.S. colleges is down 6.6% year-over-year in 2017-18, according to data from the Institute of International Education.
The focus has been on China, which is embroiled in a trade dispute with the U.S. and has attempted to dissuade its students from studying here. Chinese students account for one-third of international students studying in the U.S.
While Royce didn't address visa delays, the issue is top of mind for Terry Hartle, senior vice president of government and public affairs at the American Council on Education.
"I welcome Assistant Secretary Royce's comments, but troubling signs can't be ignored," he said. "The most common complaint I hear is the amount of time required to get a visa has increased significantly. Any college or university official that deals with international students — and I talk to some every day — will say there are delays in visa approvals. ... There's no disagreement on this."
In her speech, Royce dismissed talk of trouble with visas as Beijing's propaganda, conveyed through controlled social media apps like WeChat, which she said then swings Chinese students toward a negative perception of the U.S.
Rahul Choudaha, executive vice president at student recruiting firm Studyportals, takes issue with this characterization.
"Many students who come here are well-educated and understand the difference between propaganda and real experience," he said. "It's a bit of a stretch to say they can't distinguish between them."
Robert Daly, director of the Kissinger Institute on China and the United States, said Royce's comments in support of Chinese students coming to the U.S. were "remarkable," but he added, "I won't go further than that."
Similarly, Philip Altbach, founding director of the Center for International Higher Education at Boston College, didn't believe Royce's speech signaled a major change.
"I've seen this movie before," he said.