U.S. Eases Visa Process to Encourage Chinese Students

For decades, foreign countries have sent their brightest young students to the U.S. for an education. But visa restrictions following the Sept. 11 attacks caused those numbers to decline, beginning in 2003. The U.S. government and American universities are working to bring foreign students back, and the efforts appear to be working.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

The U.S. government and American universities are working to bring back foreign students. For decades, foreign countries sent their brightest young students to the U.S. for an education, but visa restrictions after the September 11 attacks caused those numbers to decline beginning in 2003. Now, the efforts to bring back the students appeared to be getting results.

NPR's Anthony Kuhn reports from Beijing.

China currently has more than 62,000 students studying at U.S. colleges and universities, second only to the number of students from India. Fifty-eight percent of all foreign students receiving higher education in the U.S. are from Asia.

These figures are from the latest report of the New York-based non-profit group the Institute of International Education. Executive Vice President, Peggy Blumenthal, sums up their report's findings.

Ms. PEGGY BLUMENTHAL (Executive Vice President, Institute of International Education): We're seeing the overall enrollments are no longer declining. The new enrollments are up by eight percent and the numbers are starting to climb up again from China and from many other countries.

KUHN: Tougher visa requirements after September 11th meant that even some of China's most qualified students failed to get visas, despite winning full scholarships from top U.S. colleges.

Last week, U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings led a delegation of university presidents to Asia. Speaking at Beijing Normal University, Spellings tried to correct the impression that foreign students weren't welcome in the U.S.

Ms. MARGARET SPELLINGS (U.S. Secretary of Education): In the last year, the number of student and exchange visas reached an all-time high of nearly 600,000. Student visas - up 15 percent. And we've been working hard to make the visa process smoother, easier, and more transparent.

KUHN: Attending the events was Chen Zhangliang. Chen got his doctorate degree form Washington University in St. Louis. He's now president of the China Agricultural University in Beijing.

Mr. CHEN ZHANGLIANG (President, China Agricultural University, Beijing): It was indeed, couple of years ago, some problem because of visa, so more students went to U.K. or some other country. But because of visa situation has been improved tremendously, last year and this year, so you can see more and more students are going to United States.

KUHN: Yu Yang(ph) would like to be one of them. She's a senior majoring in material science and engineering at the Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics.

Ms. YU YANG (Students, Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics): (Speaking Foreign Language)

KUHN: The U.S. and other Western nations are stronger than China in graduate education. China is very strong in basic education, she says, but in scientific research, research equipment and environment, China still lags behind somewhat.

The costs of going overseas to study are too high for many Chinese, especially when it doesn't guarantee a better job at home. In response, American universities such as the University of Maryland and Fordham University in New York City have opened up more than 150 educational programs in China, offering MBAs, certificates, and masters degrees. Peggy Blumenthal explains.

Ms. BLUMENTHAL: There are probably 20, 30, 100 times more students who are never going to come to United States but who were interested in U.S. style higher education. And so, bringing the product to them makes a lot more sense than solely relying on them coming to you.

KUHN: As China's economy develops, the number of Americans studying at Chinese universities is sure to rise as well. There were more than 6,300 American students in Chinese colleges and universities last year, a 34 percent increase over the previous year.

Anthony Kuhn, NPR News, Beijing.

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