International students will face fewer barriers to studying in the United States because of a recent effort by President Barack Obama to simplify visa applications.
An executive order issued Jan. 19 is designed to encourage travel and tourism in the U.S. and spark economic growth for American businesses.
“Every year, tens of millions of tourists from all over the world come and visit America. And the more folks who visit America, the more Americans we get back to work,” Obama said.
The changes – which aim to cut backend waiting time for visa applicants – mark the easing of more stringent restrictions imposed on the student visa process after Sept. 11, 2001, director of GW’s International Services Office Greg Leonard said.
“The more multicultural the GW student body, the better the University can prepare its students to live and thrive in an increasingly multicultural world,” he said.
Universities nationwide, including GW, have ramped up efforts in recent years to attract more international students – who generally pay full tuition – while American students increasingly demonstrate higher need for financial aid in the face of the recession.
International student enrollment in the U.S. increased 5 percent to reach more than 723,000 students in the 2010 to 2011 academic year, according to the most recent Open Doors report by the Institute of International Education.
Foreign students still make up less than 4 percent of all college enrollments – representing a largely untapped market for American universities.
“Streamlining our processes and procedures and making them more user-friendly for students and visitors will save them time and money and encourage them to choose the United States as their higher education destination,” President and CEO of the Institute of International Education Allan Goodman said.
The executive order tasked the departments with interviewing 80 percent of non-immigrant visa applicants within three weeks of submission, expediting the overall process.
Obama also charged the Departments of State and Homeland Security to expand the Visa Waiver Program, which allows travelers from 36 pre-approved countries, including the United Kingdom and Japan, to enter the U.S. without a visa for stays of fewer than 90 days. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton nominated Taiwan to join the waiver program in conjunction with Obama’s executive order, according to the White House release.
Last semester, more than 2,500 international students were enrolled in undergraduate and graduate programs at the University – a figure Leonard said he hopes to see grow. International students represent 12 percent of GW’s total student population, according to data from The Office of Institutional Research and Planning.
“In many programs, the goal is to have an appropriate balance of U.S. and international students to best prepare all students to function professionally in an environment that is increasingly global in nature,” Leonard said.
This academic year, the largest populations of international students at GW are from China, South Korea and India, internal data show.