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Student visa restrictions may cost state millions
Not Coming to America

Students from all over the world move to Texas for their college educations, often spending more than twice as much as in-state students on tuition. But as education costs increase and regulations stiffen, the number of new international applications is rapidly decreasing.

During the 2002-03 school year, 45,672 international college students in Texas contributed nearly $800 million to the state's economy, according to the New York-based Institute of International Education's (IIE) Open Doors Report 2003. Texas is the third-most popular state for foreign students, behind California and New York.

The IIE study estimates that international students spent more than $350 million on tuition and fees in Texas, while spending more than twice that amount on living expenses. Jeff Cole, a senior policy analyst for the Texas Comptroller, believes there may be a misconception that taxpayers subsidize the studies of foreign students.

"The reality is quite the opposite," Cole said. "I think in most cases the tuition and fees that they pay are more than the cost of providing their university education; so these students may, in fact, help subsidize in-state students."

The federal government requires potential international students to provide financial proof that they can sustain themselves before they are issued a student visa.

"Students apply for admission, and along with their application, they submit evidence that they have enough money to study at UT, either from personal resources, family or a teaching assistantship," said Kitty Villa, assistant director at the University of Texas (UT) International Office. "Then the university issues a certificate for eligibility for a student visa."

Applications plummet
After five years of steady growth, the IIE survey shows a nationwide increase of less than 1 percent in international student enrollment for the 2002-03 school year, the smallest increase since 1995-96.

Enrollment figures from foreign students at Texas universities are holding steady, but the number of applications received is decreasing. Texas Tech University, Texas A&M University and UT officials say they noticed a 25 percent to 40 percent drop in applications from 2003.

Bob Crosier, director of international student and scholar services at Texas Tech University, said this decrease is a direct result of new visa policies stemming from the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

"Post 9-11 legislation, policies and rhetoric have made the U.S. appear to be an unwelcoming place for students and scholars," he said.

The new visa-security program, Visas Mantis, focuses on 200 different scientific fields popular with international students. Under the new system, the government performs an extensive background check that can take several months. Villa says the heightened uncertainty of getting a visa discourages students from studying in the U.S.

Ekene "Kevin" Okolo is a first-year medical student at UT Health Sciences Center in San Antonio who came to the U.S. from Nigeria in 1996. He is a permanent resident of Texas, but said the new restrictions are driving potential students away.

"It has discouraged my other siblings from coming to the States," he said. "A lot of Nigerians are now applying to European countries, which have less stringent procedures."

Ann Holdsworth