The overall international student population at Ohio University has decreased over the past few years.
Currently, there are 1,219 international students at the university. The top five countries represented at OU are China with 260 students, India with 94 students, Ghana with 83 students, Saudi Arabia with 83 students and Oman with 73 students.
“We have seen an overall drop in (international) enrollments across the United States,” Lorna Jean Edmonds, vice provost for global affairs and international studies, said in an email.
There are many factors that go into the overall drop, including increased options for international students in their home countries and increased competition from countries like Canada, Europe and Asia, Edmonds said.
Payman Abdar, president of the Iranian Students Society (ISS), said he thinks the rate of Iranian students is decreasing and one of the reasons for that is the travel ban.
“We used to get five or six students each semester, so about 15 to 20 people each year, and that has reduced to less than 10 students each year from Iran,” Amid Vahedi, vice president of the ISS, said.
Vahedi said the travel ban affects Iranian students in two distinct ways: one way is the vetting students are forced to go through, and the other way is it affects them emotionally.
“You’ll lose a lot of time thinking about your family, and you’ll lose a lot of time in your emotions. Both educationally or research wise and emotionally, it is affecting us,” Vahedi said.
Before the travel ban, visas were still single-entry, meaning once the student enters the country, their traveling visa will have expired, and if they leave they would have to apply for a new visa. After the travel ban was put in place, visas remained single entry, but families are no longer allowed to visit the students.
During the first phase of the travel ban, students from banned countries were advised not to leave the U.S. Now, banned countries include Libya, Iran, Yemen, North Korea, Venezuela, Somalia and Syria. However, the travel ban originally included Chad, Iraq and Sudan as well.
Edmonds said there is also intense vetting of students from certain countries, and that is having an impact on the rate of international students, particularly the graduate student population.
“That first summer Ohio University provided room and board, and the Bobcat 70 supported scholarships for those students who utilized the room and board since they were taxed,” Edmonds said in an email.
The further phases of the ban were softened, so the requirement to stay on campus was lifted; however, students from those countries and Iran specifically still had struggles.
“Many were unable to go home the second summer because the extreme vetting that was implemented meant they would not have time to apply, interview and receive a new visa in order to return to their studies in the fall,” Edmonds said in an email.
The fear of being denied for a new visa entirely was also a factor, which would make them unable to finish their degree.
“(The university) provided (Iranians) with housing and meal plans, and they also provided on campus jobs,” Vahedi said. “The university came in and helped a lot. That was actually a really big move from the university.”
Vahedi said the process of obtaining a visa used to be very easy. He was able to receive his visa in less than a month from the point he applied for one. Today, Vahedi said there are more than 400 Iranians who have applied for visas and still haven’t heard anything back.
“The university is granting admissions and is willing to pay for you and have you as their student, but if you don’t actually get here you will lose your admission and your position,” Vahedi said. ‘Then you will have to go through another process of applying.”
Over the past few years, OU has realigned their strategy for recruiting international students, Craig Cornell, vice provost for strategic enrollment management, said in an email.
“This includes significant efforts to build a broader university strategy in various international markets,” Cornell said in an email. “This has included direct recruitment, native website development, marketing and communication efforts, and various social media platforms.”
OU was involved in the “UR Welcome Here” campaign because the university created a video and multiple communications to reinforce that the university is a welcoming place, Edmonds said in an email.
“President Nellis and University leadership reinforced our commitment to all students, and international students are of equal importance,” Edmonds said in an email. “They bring their distinct academic and lived experience contributions and diversity to OHIO and our community.”