Dear President Biden: GAISA’s Open Letter to the New Administration

Part 2 of our 2 part series covering the insights of our Foreign on Campus Report 2021.
Image: Inauguration day January 20th, 2009 credit David Bergman 

As President-elect Joe Biden heads to Washington, many of us are hoping to see a powerful course correction in how the U.S. government treats the international students who come here to study. All of us at GAISA are encouraged that the Biden-Harris 2020 platform included meaningful provisions to improve the international student experience. But we need to do more than just correct the misguided actions of previous administrations — we need to seize this opportunity to more fully activate the potential of a nearly 8-billion-person global talent pool. 

We know the U.S. is economically stronger, culturally richer, and globally more competitive as a result of the great contributions of its international students. Yet tremendous damage has been done to the leadership position the nation once held as the top destination for students from around the world. This is why we have sent an open letter to the President-elect laying out urgent and actionable steps his administration can take to ensure the continued vitality of our international students — and our nation. 

DO NOW—What the Biden Administration can do immediately:

  • Repeal the Muslim Travel Ban. Although they are ostensibly exempt from this ban, many international scholars have experienced substantial delays in visa processing or renewals, causing them to miss entire semesters of study.
  • Reinstate DACA. The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program provides a critical opportunity for impacted young adults to attend college and take advantage of study abroad programs.
  • Drop Duration of Status Limits. The fixed duration of admission for international students of either two or four years has disproportionately affected students pursuing STEM pathways and disincentivizes them from choosing the U.S. to advance in these fields.
  • Repeal H-1B Restrictions. Restrictions to the H-1B visa program have been shown to have no impact on protecting American jobs from non-citizen talent.

DO NEXT—What the Biden Administration can do in the near-term:

  • Introduce a Joint Commission for International Students. Leverage the resources of the Departments of Education and Homeland Security to examine and reimagine opportunities to advance U.S. higher education within the context of international relations.
  • Intersectionality Matters. Advocate for it. Recognize how intersecting identities shape the lived experiences of international students.

DO MORE—Where the Biden Administration can have even greater impact:

  • Increase Access to Financial Aid. Federal financial aid is only available to U.S. citizens, yet we charge international students up to three times more.
  • Include International Students in CARES Act Funding. Institutions must come up with emergency funds themselves for their international students in need, even if they are taxpayers with valid Social Security numbers.
  • Expand Work Rights for International Students. Extend the amount of time available for international students to stay and work in the country post-graduation.

Get involved with our movement for change! Click the button for your free copy of the GAISA Foreign on Campus Report 2021 and get access to a downloadable copy of the letter, which you can sign and send to the mailing address provided.

Foreign On Campus: Debunking the Myths

Happy group of multi-ethnic young students outdoors laughing and holding notebooks

Part 1 of 2. Foreign on Campus is the annual report published by the Global Alliance for International Student Advancement.

Never has it been more important to separate myths from reality. If we’ve learned anything from the past few years, it’s that the explosive growth of online media sources has unleashed a torrent of misinformation about, well, virtually everything.  Those of us in the academic community have a special responsibility to research, evaluate and expose false narratives —the actual fake news—in order to advance a genuine understanding of the issues that confront us. 

GAISA’s deep commitment to dispelling harmful myths about international students drove us to produce our second, in-depth report on the state of international education today. With Foreign on Campus 2021, we wanted to take a deep dive into the impact international students have on our institutions of higher education. We especially wanted to focus on the contributions they make to our academic, social, cultural and community wellbeing, beyond the bottom-line value they provide through the high tuition rates they are generally charged.

Our report demonstrates how domestic students, most of whom never get to study abroad, benefit from the global perspectives they gain from having international students on campus. We look at how institutions, and especially STEM departments, benefit from being able to attract some of the most talented and ambitious students in the world. And we examine the role played by international students in the economy beyond their stays on campus. Did you know that 25 percent of U.S. billion-dollar startup companies had a founder who first came to America as an international student?

Debunking the Myths

One key step to creating an inclusive community is to start debunking the myths that often cloud public perception of international students. These include:

  • Myth #1: International students take enrollment opportunities away from domestic students.
  • Myth #2: International students who study in the United States tend to stay and lose connections to their homes, resulting in a brain drain those countries can ill afford. 
  • Myth #3: International students bring a radicalized element to our campuses. 
  • Myth #4: The proportion of international students on domestic campuses is increasing. 
  • Myth #5: International students are all wealthy. 
  • Myth #6: International students take jobs away from domestic students. 

Each of these statements can be used to push harmful policies—and each myth clouds the truth about our international students. Want to know what we discovered were the real facts behind these statements?  Download our new report now for free!

A Look Into The Open Doors Data: Quick Takes on Fast Facts 2020

Richard DeCapua, President and Founder of GAISA offers an in depth analysis of the Open Doors Report 2020

As is true of just about everything in 2020, International Education Week looked different this year. But even as gales of news about the spiking coronavirus crisis threatened to overwhelm the findings from the annual Open Doors Report, the question of how the education community will respond to the ongoing uncertainty amidst a disrupted transition to a new administration has conveyed even greater importance on understanding the state of international student affairs.

Unpacking the report

Broadly, the Fast Facts data reveals that international student enrollment is on a downward trend. There were 1.8 percent fewer international students in 2019/20 attending U.S. institutions as compared to the previous academic year. Indeed, for the second straight year, the Open Doors report found declines in the international student population at almost every academic level:

  • Undergraduate: 419,321, a decline of -2.9 percent
  • Graduate: 374,435, a decline of — 0.9 percent
  • Non-degree: 58,201, a decline of -6.6 percent

While many factors could have impacted the decline in global students crossing our borders, it’s worth observing that many of the most common countries of origin for international students — including four of the top five — have had strained relationships with the United States during the Trump administration. Travel bans and increased border scrutiny have impacted the cultural experience of current and aspiring international students alike — a fact that prompted concern among the education community, even before the rise of coronavirus.

The top five countries of origin:

  • China: 372,532, 34.6 percent of total
  • India: 193,124, 18.0 percent of total
  • South Korea: 193,124, 4.6 percent of total
  • Saudi Arabia: 30,957, 2.9 percent of total
  • Canada: 30,957, 2.9 percent of total

Still, there are encouraging figures to be gleaned from the Fast Facts. More than 1 million international students representing Asia, Europe, Africa, North America and South America made their way to the United States to study in 2019/20, bringing with them diverse cultures, viewpoints and experiences.

How GAISA fits in

The International Educational Exchange’s (IEE) Open Doors Report is the only long standing and comprehensive information resource on international students and scholars in the United States. It provides tremendous data and context related to the demographics of our international student population — we want our work to complement and extend those insights. GAISA is primarily concerned with researching international student success in higher education, better understanding the international student experience and elevating international student voices.

We aim to work with universities across the country and act as a champion and advocate for the international student experience. International students contribute tremendously to our campuses and it is a disservice to all of us when their voices are not recognized. We believe in the power of community and connection and we want to act as a force to bring together international students and their domestic peers to promote greater cultural and social integration and student advancement.

Without resources like the Open Doors Fast Facts data, that mission would be vastly more complicated. Fortunately, we have decades of information about where many international students choose to live and study within the United States, which creates the opportunity for us to observe patterns of success and meet more international students where they are.

Together, we can advance our understanding of what it means to be foreign on campus and elevate the voices of international students all around the United States. Let’s get started.


Ready to get involved? Join our community today.

First GAISA Report on International Students: Findings are Eye-Opening, Sobering and Energizing

GAISA released an initial report, findings include large discrepancies between domestic and international student experiences.

We recently released GAISA’s very first International Student Report. When we began to work on our inaugural report, our aim was to review the research that focuses on the lives of international students in the U.S. We wanted to see what has been said about and for the students who come here to study. And very importantly, we wanted to bring in the actual voices of these students, who too often have been excluded from the conversations that most impact them.

What we found in researching the data on international students was eye-opening, sobering and yet energizing for the members of GAISA. What we didn’t find was equally so. In many areas, little information exists regarding the international student experience — and a big part of GAISA’s mission is to begin filling in those gaps.

We examined multiple facets of the international student experience, including:

  • Academics
  • Health
  • Financial & Legal Issues
  • Social & Cultural Experience
  • Workforce Readiness
  • Immigration Status

And true to our foundational commitment to listen directly to international students, we invited them to add their own experiences to our report. This we did in two ways. First, we included the results of a survey of both international and domestic students that we conducted in collaboration with the Association of American Colleges & Universities (AAC&U) in the fall of 2020. And second, we built the report as a living document, with an embedded link to invite readers to contribute their thoughts and stories about the international student experience.

Key findings

Some of the more revealing data points we uncovered had to do with the integration of domestic and international students. It was disheartening to find that genuine connections between the two groups didn’t seem to be forming as much as we might hope.

  • 70% of domestic students said their college or university advertised their global and diverse student population when going through the admissions process
  • 57% of domestic students said interactions with international students have been a valuable or meaningful part of their collegiate experience
  • 52% of domestic students said they don’t have any international student friends

There was also a sense on the part of international students that they were not receiving the support they needed from their institutions.

  • 60% of international students said their institution was providing enough support and resources to enable their success.
  • But when asked about specific things their institution could do to better support them, 78% had numerous suggestions:
  • 21%: Enhanced resources for mental health, counselling, housing, nutrition, and healthcare
  • 21%: Increased focus on campus life integration
  • 19%: Enhanced academic advising and faculty support
  • 8%: Enhanced visa navigation assistance
  • 4%: Open dialogue about social issues
  • 4%: More personalized marketing and communications
  • 1%: Enhanced onboarding programming

Providing clarity for international students and their institutions

The United States has long been the top global destination for higher education, with 1.1 million international students studying in the U.S. in 2019. Of course, COVID-19 presented massive challenges for all students and institutions in 2020. But our research found that the pandemic has exacerbated issues for international students that have long been developing. For example, the government policies and politics of recent years have done little to make the U.S. a more welcoming destination for international students.

It should not be surprising, then, that there was a 25 percent drop in international enrolments in the U.S. in the fall of 2020. How this figure will be affected by the arrival of a new administration in Washington, D.C. — and the eventual roll-out of a vaccine for COVID-19 — remains to be seen.

The 2020 GAISA International Student Report serves as a key starting point to provide clarity on how we can move towards a future that welcomes international students to colleges and universities and ensures they are treated with respect and dignity. The reason I described our research as “energizing” is that there is much that we, the community of and for international students, can contribute to this process. But it’s clear we still have quite a road ahead of us.

Join us on the journey to help elevate the voices of international students. Access your free copy of the 2020 GAISA International Research Report

Highlights from the Advisory Council’s Inaugural Meeting

Images from our first advisory council meeting.

The inaugural meeting of the Advisory Council for the Global Alliance for International Student Advancement, GAISA, was recently held online and brought together a notable group of educational leaders. Fifteen nationally recognized educators, researchers, advisors, administrators and executives from a range of institutions, including private and public, large to small, convened to discuss the state of international students in higher education.

Committed to research and advocacy for the betterment of the international student community in higher ed, the founding members of the Council agreed that their aim is to be disruptive in effecting change across a number of areas, including:

  • Academics
  • Health and wellness
  • Financial and legal issues
  • Social and cultural experiences
  • Workforce readiness

Members asserted the importance of bringing international students into the conversation, especially around topics from which they are too often excluded, such as mental health, wellness, engagement and alumni relations. They agreed on the need to shift institutional culture to bring international students a greater sense of belonging and integration, on and off campus. Ensuring that international students are not viewed as “other” is at the very core of GAISA and serves as a directional guide for the Advisory Council’s strategies.

An important distinction was drawn between GAISA’s mission and that of other organizations that look at international students. Council members agreed that, in fact, much of the work done in this area hasn’t actually focused on supporting international students. Unlike our domestic study-abroad programs, which do focus on the student experience, international student organizations have not placed emphasis on the people who come here from around the world Additionally, COVID-19 raised areas of special concern for Council members, who discussed the cracks in support, engagement and resources for international students during the pandemic.

As their virtual gathering concluded, Advisory Council members reaffirmed their commitment to building resilience to barriers for international students, whether these obstacles were procedural, such as financial and legal problems, or perceptual, such as issues with feeling welcomed and integrated.

Would you like to keep up to date with GAISA’s Advisory Council and its initiatives, including its upcoming report Foreign on Campus 2021?


Welcome to the Global Alliance for International Student Advancement

A multitude of students sit in a lecture hall

In response to a year filled with catastrophic events, we are excited to be launching a movement of positive and proactive transformation in higher education. The Global Alliance for International Student Advancement, or GAISA, is an organization of like-minded individuals and institutions dedicated to building a new model of international student success in higher education. Unabashed in our willingness to question — and yes, to disrupt, if need be — the status quo, we are setting new and higher expectations for the experiences and outcomes of students from around the world.

We, the founding members of GAISA, also hail from around the world and from diverse backgrounds and disciplines. Our advisory council is composed of 15 higher education faculty, administrators and students committed to advancing international student success across institutions. Together, we seek to unite students (domestic and international), parents (domestic and international), faculty, higher education administrators, and experts in education, retail and market behavior to help institutions create and sustain environments where international students thrive academically, culturally and socially.

These learners have historically been met with benign neglect and more recently, with downright hostility by some public figures. One unspoken reality is that the students who come to the United States to study in our universities and colleges have too often been seen through the lens of their financial contributions to our institutions. Sadly, this perspective, though rarely discussed, is not surprising, given the severe budget constraints that so many schools are facing.

But here’s the thing: looking to international students for what they can add to the bottom line is not only a terribly transactional way to respond to members of our academic communities. It also overlooks the wealth of undeniable benefits that they — and they alone — can provide. These learners should be welcomed for their ability to add unparalleled depth to the educational experience for all of us, from educators and institutions to domestic students and the wider community. So when it comes to amplifying and elevating the international student experience, GAISA will be unafraid to speak frankly, to listen directly, and to advocate fiercely.

In the coming months, we will be examining in detail how we can better integrate international students into the learning and lives of our institutions. We will be spearheading in-depth research into how these students and their families experience their time on and off campus. In the midst of a pandemic and in an exceptionally volatile political climate, we will be asking whether and where they see the need for more support. And we will be examining long-term issues in how colleges and universities treat international students.

As this past year has amply demonstrated, we cannot isolate ourselves from the rest of the world. Instead, we need to open up new pathways for creative innovation across borders and disciplines to find answers to the issues that challenge us all. All of us at GAISA are united in our belief that learning only happens when you begin to practice empathy with people from different cultures. And this empathy, in turn, deepens the learning upon which our futures depend.

Partnerships are key to GAISA’s work and we welcome you to join us.

Want to learn more?