What Happens If We Force Foreign Students Out of the Country?

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U.S. Education 'Very Valuable Service Export'

Professor Giovanni Peri, professor of economics and head of the UC Davis Global Migration Center, released a policy paper July 13 detailing the economic and education consequences of forcing foreign students out of the country.  

Giovanni Peri mugshot

"This abrupt and arbitrary change to migration and education policy will inflict lasting and unnecessary damage to international students, and risk massive economic losses to U.S. higher education and to the U.S. economy overall," Peri said.

A first, obvious consequence of this policy change is that it will discourage international students from studying in the United States. Enrollment may fall dramatically, as new students will be prevented from entering, and continuing students will be required to leave. Even in a scenario where campuses fully reopen for in-person instruction, students may no longer perceive this country as a welcoming environment and decide to study elsewhere, Peri said. 

The loss of international students will have immediate negative consequences, he said in a summary of the paper. U.S. education is an extremely valuable service export, roughly equivalent to total exports of wheat, corn, coal, and natural gas. International students — who are not eligible for financial aid and pay full-sticker price tuition — are a critical source of tuition revenues for public and private American Universities.

In summary, he continued, research clearly shows that international students significantly contribute and enrich U.S. society:

  • They spend tuition dollars that help to fund universities and subsidize the cost of enrollment for American-born students.
  • They generate spillovers that improve the performance of local economies.
  • They specialize in providing STEM skills and are crucial for scientific technological innovation, which in turn sustains most of the U.S.’s long-term economic growth.

Preventing international students from remaining in the US will have disastrous consequences for the country’s economy in both the short and long run: its most competitive sectors of higher education, and technological and scientific innovation will suffer. Not to mention that the directive is a capricious, cruel, and discriminatory response to the COVID-19 pandemic — forcing students to travel in a time of uncertainty and distress.

The summary and full policy brief highlight some of the immediate and long-term consequences of the most recent ICE directive.

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