Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs
Janice L. Jacobs
Remarks to the Community Colleges for International Development
Summer Institute 2009
The Grand Hyatt
July 20, 2009
12:00 p.m. – 1:45 p.m.
Thank you. It is a pleasure to be here today especially as higher education is a subject dear to my heart.
My father served as an education officer with the U.S. Agency for International Development and dedicated his life to expanding higher education programs both within the United States and in developing countries.
These programs empowered teachers and school administrations to serve their communities, educate their citizens, and pursue a better standard of living for themselves and their families.
Students in the 21st century face emerging issues such as global warming, famine, poverty, health crises, a global population expansion, and shifting social norms. These challenging topics require leaders who have learned to communicate, function, and adapt on local, national and global levels.
There is no better way to facilitate this than by creating educational exchanges and forging global partnerships at the more than 1,200 community colleges and other higher education institutions across the United States.
As Assistant Secretary of Consular Affairs, I am committed to enhancing and promoting educational exchange through a streamlined visa process.
The student visa program strengthens our universities, workforce, and our domestic economy by facilitating legitimate travel to America. International students contribute approximately $15.5 billion to the domestic economy each year.
These foreign students come here to gain specialized expertise, allowing them to more fully participate in the commercial and civic life of their home countries. In some cases, once these new leaders return home, they will forge bonds that contribute to American commerce and development as well.
More important than the money, however, is the understandings fostered by the time students spend here. I believe strongly that the best advertisement for America is America. Face-to-face interactions are invaluable for ensuring our national security, and promoting our diplomatic ties, well into the future.
That’s one reason the Department of State funds the Community College Initiative, which brings students from key countries to the U.S. to learn English and other job skills to give them a professional leg up at home.
We believe that the personal touch and student support supplied by community colleges helps international students adjust and succeed, and their experiences at your schools will factor into how they view America years into the future.
I am honored that the American Association of Community Colleges invited me here today to express my support for the work of community college educators and administrators. I am also grateful for the annual opportunity to inform prospective international students about the benefits of studying at U.S. community colleges in the Association’s Guide for International Students.
We meet at a relevant time. Both President Obama and Secretary Clinton have signaled America’s commitment to protect our national security while advancing our interests through diplomacy and development. As citizens of America and as representatives of educational institutions, you have a role in helping us to fulfill this commitment.
21st century education is being shaped by educational exchange and forging global partnerships. I want my message to be clear: the United States welcomes students from other countries to our shores. Our open door policy has always been a critical part of how America engages the world.
Although security must always be our first priority, the Department of State has never forgotten that it is just as important to maintain America’s traditional openness and to encourage people to come here and experience the true personality of our country and our people. This is especially true when it comes to international education.
The relationship the U.S. Government shares with the education and international exchange communities is unique. It deserves our best thinking and our commitment so we can create a more prosperous, peaceful, and progressive future.
While you, the schools, are responsible for recruiting and educating students, we, the Department, understand how important our role is in getting students to their classes, research or exchange programs on time, and we’ve taken numerous initiatives to ensure that happens.
Our overseas posts give priority to students and exchange visitors. Applicants for these programs can now apply for visas 120 days before their studies begin. We post current visa appointment wait and processing times on our internet website at travel.state.gov and our website provides students more information than ever before, and is more user-friendly.
In addition, we recently launched a new website for American students traveling abroad: Studentsabroad.state.gov, which provides students with the information they need before they embark on an overseas excursion.
Changed procedures and new initiatives are only part of the story, however. The Administration as a whole takes every opportunity, on our foreign and domestic trips, to speak to students, faculty, and other audiences about the unparalleled educational opportunities in the United States and the virtues of international educational exchanges.
Consular officers and other embassy personnel actively reach out to foreign student and academic groups to promote U.S. higher education and our efforts have proved to be successful.
For the third year in a row, student and exchange visitor visa issuances increased significantly. Last year we issued more than 700,000 student and exchange visitor visas, an all time high.
We issued 9.1 percent more student/exchange visitor visas in Fiscal Year 2008 than in Fiscal Year 2007, and this year’s number is so far 26.8 percent higher than FY 2001 numbers. This increase proves that the visa process is not discouraging students from choosing to study in the U.S.
Despite the numerous enhancements to the visa process, and despite the positive visa issuance numbers, there are some who continue to believe that the U.S. visa process discourages international students and scholars from coming to our shores.
I want to reassure you, however, that this is not the case. Some of our critics in the post 9/11 period have more recently acknowledged our success in increasing the number of foreign students enrolling in U.S. institutions.
The vast majority of student visas, approximately 70 percent, are issued. While we do not separate our statistics by school type, our analysis indicates that the approval rate for community college students parallels the overall rate.
I want to correct the false impression that consular officers refuse visas to community college applicants because the officer may not have heard of a certain school.
Consular officers at our more than 200 visa processing posts around the world are given specific guidance regarding student visas which explicitly states that a student’s attendance at a particular school is not a valid ground for a visa refusal.
The name of the school is not that important to us, what is important is why the applicant wants to study at that particular institution, what his or her goal is and how he, or she, plans to succeed at it.
Consular officers want to know that a potential student has a clear focus beyond “coming to the United States.” If a potential student chose the program based on location, or academic credentials, or internship programs – we want and need to hear that. It’s the sort of information that confirms to us that the student plans to attend school and abide by the terms of his or her visa.
All of us benefit when qualified, energetic, committed students attend and complete programs in the United States.
Some of you may have heard of visa delays because of special administrative processing. In some cases, we are obligated by law and inter-agency agreements to further process an application. Although delays with these cases sometimes happen, fewer than three percent of all qualified nonimmigrant visa applicants are affected. The other 97 percent receive their visas in 48 hours or less, and we do our best to make special provisions for students and exchange visitors impacted by administrative processing.
The new millennium began with a dramatic technological revolution and we’re making sure we’re keeping up with it. For instance, this year we began using a fully electronic, web-based visa application, which removes paper from the application process. The form will be available in multiple languages, allowing the applicant to upload a digital photo, and, in the future, it will be linked to an online appointment scheduler and an online fee payment tool.
We continue to seek new ways to streamline our visa issuance processes, within the constraints provided by U.S. law.
Our goal is for a process that is consistent, transparent, legal and fair.
We welcome feedback from the education community on other ideas to improve the student visa experience, and continue to maintain an open dialogue to ensure foreign students have every opportunity to come to America and receive one of the best educations in the world.
Those of us in the education, science, research and government communities must work together to promote international study, and dismiss any fears or misperceptions by students or schools about the visa process. If we succeed at this, our country becomes safer and more prosperous and our world more interconnected through international exchange.
Thank you. I’d now like to open up to questions.