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Photo: Camille Rapay

Despite seeing a 10 percent increase in international student applications for the 2017-2018 academic year, some international students at Penn are growing increasingly concerned about their safety. 

While the United States is still a major destination for universities international students, there has also been a greater increase in interest for universities in other countries, said Arun Ponnusamy, chief academic officer at Collegewise, a private college counseling firm for international students. 

“What does appear to have changed is the margin by which [the United States] is the prime destination. Interest in [United Kingdom], Canadian, and Australian schools has exploded,” Ponnusamy wrote in an email. He added that some of this is likely the result of "bad news surrounding America."

President Donald Trump's administration has enforced multiple travel bans since the beginning of the year that have impacted students from various countries, most recently those from Chad, Iran, North Korea, Somalia, Syria, Venezuela and Yemen. 

Ponnusamy added that increased interest in other colleges is also a side-effect of concerns over free speech and job opportunities post-graduation.

“There’s less conversation surrounding transformative experiences and more surrounding, 'Will I get a job after I graduate?'” Ponnusamy said. “So if American universities become less of a guarantee in that way — especially as H1-B visas and [Optional Practical Training] options dry up — the significantly cheaper costs of UK, Canadian, and Australian educations becomes very appealing.”

President of the Assembly of International Students and Engineering senior Dhruv Agarwal said that at Penn, AIS has been working with both International Student and Scholar Services and the administration to address concerns of prospective, incoming and current international students. 

Before admission decisions come out every March, AIS holds a training session to teach current Penn international students how to mentor incoming students from abroad. This includes guiding them on how to address their concerns about the current political climate.

“[Student mentors] were also told to redirect any question to the right person in ISSS if they did get things about, 'Is my visa going to be revoked?'" Agarwal said. "I don’t want a mentor answering that question because their answer may not be correct because of the policies changing so quickly.” 

AIS sends current members to their respective high schools to speak to prospective students on the application process and student life. Through this process, the group hopes to provide advice to incoming students on concerns of the implications of U.S. politics on student life. 

“We tried to find people in more the Middle Eastern countries so they can sort of help explain to students in their schools what kind of concerns they could have,” Agarwal said. 

The Undergraduate Assembly has also been working with the administration and ISSS to ensure that international students feel safe on campus. A project that is currently being discussed is the compilation of a resource guide for international students. 

“We haven’t started putting resources together, but we’re collaborating with AIS and ISSS to get the resources we want for it,” Communications Director of the UA and College sophomore Jordan Andrews said. “Definitely if not this year, it would be piloted next year during international student orientation.”  

The ISSS directed requests for comment to Senior Associate Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Elisabeth O'Connell. Director of Media Relations Ron Ozio responded on behalf of O'Connell and said she was not available for comment.

UA Representative and Engineering freshman Maher Abdel Samad has been very involved in working to create the international students guide, which he hopes will mirror the guide compiled for first generation low-income students at Penn. 

“Penn does provide the information, but international students just don’t know how to get it,” Abdel Samad said. “[The guide]’s just something that gives them the roadmap to everything they need to know. It would be very accessible with infographics to show all the technical stuff like how to get a phone number, housing.” 

Abdel Samad added that even though coming from Lebanon means that he isn’t personally impacted by changes in immigration policy, he feels very strongly for those who are. 

“I have heard a lot of people who have been scared. Sometimes they’re really worried about not seeing their family for the next four years,” Abdel Samad said. “In the UA, I want to do everything I can to make these peoples' lives better and easier, and to feel like they have a family at Penn because even if they can’t see their family, they have a family here.”

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