Correction: This story has been edited to reflect that Brenda Cuellar actually went to Colombia and Brazil with the purpose of recruiting international students. The News regrets the error.
Despite strides made in Eastern’s Spring 2018 enrollment numbers, there is one area where numbers have dropped since last year- international graduate and undergraduate students.
The university is down seven new international undergraduate students from Spring 2017, when it had 25, to Spring 2018, for a total of 18 new students. International graduate students also went down from 161 new international students in Spring 2017 to 46 new students in Spring 2018.
Brenda Cuellar, associate director of the Office of International Students and Scholars, said this is because there have been some issues with international students receiving their visas.
“We are seeing students getting their visas denied, particularly from India,” Cuellar said. “That’s just out of our control.”
While the United States has historically been welcoming to international students, that has changed “substantially” since the presidential election, Ryan Hendrickson, dean of the graduate school, said.
“It’s impacted almost every regional comprehensive university across the Midwest, other universities across the United States,” Hendrickson said. “We want our international students to know that we love having them here, they are welcome, but the political climate in the country is very anti-immigration and I think that’s also impacting international student enrollment.”
Because of this political climate, students are also becoming more attracted to other parts of the world, he added.
Hendrickson said Eastern is doing everything it used to in the past to recruit international students, but they are just not getting visas.
It can take up to three to five months to receive an international student visa.
Students submit documents and when they are admitted, the university provides them with an I-20 immigration document that allows them to apply for an F1 visa or a J1 visa.
After students’ visas get denied, Cuellar said they are encouraged to apply again for an F1 visa. The university will then defer their application and give them a new I-20 for the following semester.
Sometimes, students get denied several times for a visa. “The most I’ve heard was four or five,” Cuellar said.
Different factors cause these visas to get denied, from the number of students applying to current political rhetoric about immigration, she added.
However, Cuellar said students getting an F1 visa are not coming to the United States with the end goal of moving there permanently. Instead, they have the intent of going back to their country and using their skills there.
Though the Office of International Students and Scholars does not necessarily have control over whether or not students get visas, they do try to stay in contact with students with College WeekLive and pairing current and prospective students together.
While students might get discouraged because of all that is happening, Cuellar said they are persistent and trying to keep moving forward when trying to get to Eastern.
“We email them visa tips, send them videos on how to prepare for a visa interview, being confident in front of the immigration officer, making sure that you prove you have sufficient financial documents or things like making sure that you make it clear you’re not going to the United States to immigrate there, you’re going there to study, things like that,” she said.
Cuellar went to Brazil and Colombia in the fall Semester, and India in the spring last year to try to recruit international students.
“We went in the spring to make an outreach effort, we have tried very hard to demonstrate how welcoming we are, but we know they’re just getting denied,” Hendrickson said.
Hendrickson said US Rep. John Shimkus (R, Illinois-15) and US Rep. Rodney Davis (R, Illinois-13) have worked with the university to contact embassies and encourage the visas to get approved, but they still did not.
“International student enrollment has definitely decreased. We, like many other universities are very concerned about that,” Hendrickson said. “We still want to have international students here.”
Cassie Buchman can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]