Specialists recruiting Africans and other international students for US universities are expressing growing concern over the potentially damaging impact of President Donald Trump’s restrictive visa policies.
Most of the 250 higher education institutions in the US, which recently surveyed on their application trends, reported that the number of Africans seeking to study in the US was holding steady or slightly increasing.
At the same time, however, university admissions professionals are reporting troubling feedback from applicants in Africa, said Melanie Gottlieb, deputy director of the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers.
Prospective students from Africa cite two main sources of worry about applying to attend US universities, Ms Gottlieb noted.
These involved fears of discrimination based on their Muslim faith and anxieties over US visa issues — processing, denials and the ability to travel once admitted to the US, she said.
Some US universities are citing a general concern among international students that Mr Trump’s pending ban on travel to the US from six Muslim-majority countries could be expanded to include additional States.
Those misgivings may well have intensified in the weeks since the survey was conducted.
Reuters reported on Friday that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has ordered US embassies around the world to identify “populations warranting increased scrutiny” regarding their US visa applications.
This implementation of Mr Trump’s promise to conduct “extreme vetting” of visa applicants could lead to systematic US profiling on the basis of religion or nationality, immigration advocates warn. Applicants with no links to terrorist organisations may be denied US visas as a result of the Trump administration’s broad focus on “populations”.
The number of Kenyans studying in the US had been dropping steadily in the decade prior to Mr Trump’s election victory. The total may shrink even further in the coming years due to heightened difficulties in obtaining US visas and Kenyans’ suspicions that they may not be welcome in Mr Trump’s America.
About 3,000 Kenyans were enrolled in US universities and graduate schools in the 2014/2015 academic year, compared to the more than 7,000 Kenyans studying in the US in 2004/2005. Kenya was once a leading source of international students in the US. Luminaries such as Barack Obama Snr, Wangari Maathai and Uhuru Kenyatta earned degrees from US institutions.
DROP IN SHILLING
But Kenya now sends far fewer students to the US than does Nigeria, which has nearly 10,000 of its nationals currently enrolled in US universities.
The causes of the fall-off in the number of Kenyan students are said to include the drop in the shilling’s exchange rate against the dollar and the emergence of academic alternatives in Kenya.
Promoters of study opportunities in the US are meanwhile offering assurances that the Trump administration’s restrictive policies will not be replicated by US universities. “International education is at the heart of US higher education,” Ms Gottlieb told the Sunday Nation. “The positions of the current administration will not change the dispositions of individual college and university campuses. International students will continue to be welcome.”
Peggy Blumenthal, a senior counsellor at the New York-based Institute of International Education, said her organisation is confident that “international students will continue to find the US a welcoming and attractive study destination, as do the over one million international students current enrolled in US colleges and universities.”
She also noted that the State Department’s Education USA advising centres around the world are continuing to encourage and assist international students seeking to study in the US.