Foreign students still flock to U.S.

ST. LOUIS – A year and bunches of red tape ago, officials who work with international students at U.S. colleges and universities began to fear the worst. It hasn’t happened, at least not at many Midwest schools.

The students haven’t disappeared, far from it. Washington University and Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville report about as many students as last fall.

And overseas students might have shown up in even greater numbers but for more and stricter rules for getting student visas.

Statistics from the U.S. State Department show little year-to-year change in the number of student visa applications turned down but a 22 percent decline in those approved.

The drop is clearly a result at least in part to longer processing times and a backlog of requests. Visa delays are expected to cost about 30 students from various countries this entire semester at Carbondale.

Yet international students persist. That’s because going to college in this country is “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that many don’t want to pass up,” said Brandyn Woodard, international student adviser at Webster.

Neither terrorism nor a two-month wait for her visa deterred Tee Trang Trieu from Vietnam, who transferred from Webster’s Thailand campus to its main campus here this fall. “I just want to travel,” she said.

Woodard said the time it takes to get a student visa varies from country to country and case by case, with students from Africa having the longest, hardest times.

Adelaide Parsons, director of the international center at Southeast Missouri State University, thinks the weak dollar is helping to keep international students coming. Parsons said an increase in the number of new international students there was more than offset by a decrease in returning undergraduates.

She assumes those who didn’t come back transferred to other schools, either for lower tuition or different academic programs. International students have “learned to shop,” she said.

Toni Liston, adviser to international students at SIUE, has noticed the same thing. Many transferees are responding to uncertain economic times by continuing their studies, she said.

“Like Americans, when the economy gets a little rough (international) students tend to go to school and get more degrees.