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While the number of international students applying to U.S. universities has fallen nationwide, Penn continues to see a rising number of applicants from abroad. Credit: Pat Goodridge

The Trump administration's increasingly stringent policies around international visas have rattled Penn's prospective students from abroad, but not dissuaded them from applying. In fact, according to admissions data, the University has seen a growing number of international applicants since President Trump took office. 

While international student enrollment across U.S. universities declined in 2017 for the first time in 12 years, Penn saw a 6 percent increase in the number of international applicants during the 2017-18 admissions cycle. In fact, the total number of foreign students attending Penn increased by 250 students in 2017, from 6,221 to 6,471 students. 

Even though students are not being deterred to apply, Dean of Admissions Eric Furda said Penn is by no means immune to the effects of recent policies that have made it increasingly difficult for international students to study and work in the United States. 

Earlier this year, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services announced that it would be cracking down on international students who overstay their visas, sparking anxiety throughout the higher education sphere, the New York Times reported. The Trump administration’s travel policies, which were approved by the Supreme Court in December 2017, have also affected students from Chad, Iran, North Korea, Somalia, Syria, Venezuela, and Yemen. 

Last spring, the Trump administration announced plans to shorten visas for Chinese citizens, a policy that went into effect June 11. These new rules have already begun to affect Chinese graduate students at Penn, who are now having trouble applying for new visas.

Furda said since Trump took office, admissions officers have had to have longer, more in-depth conversations with international students and their families about safety issues that may arise while studying in the U.S.

In the past, it was more common for international applicants to lead the conversation during informational sessions and mainly pose questions around the academic aspects of Penn, Kathryn Bezella, vice dean for Undergraduate Admissions, said. Now, the conversation has shifted and parents are asking more questions about the political climate and safety of the school. 

And it is not just prospective students who have been rattled by Trump's immigration policies. 

Current Penn students as well as professors have been going to International Student & Scholar Services with a range of new questions, said ISSS Director Rodolfo Altamirano. He added that while ISSS does its best to answer those questions and provide individualized counsel, it is difficult to give definite answers since the government’s policies are changing in real time. 

“We tell [concerned students and scholars] to be very cautious, and that we will provide them with all the information that they need, and that they shouldn’t hesitate to approach us in case, you know, there are pressing concerns,” Altamirano said. 

ISSS provides free legal counsel to international members of the Penn community who are having difficulty with their immigration status. 

An Engineering freshman from India, who requested anonymity due to fear that any negative comments toward the U.S. would discourage future employers from hiring him, said he believes that for now, Penn’s global prestige is still protecting the school from experiencing the fallout of Trump’s policies first-hand. 

He described the visa application process as strict and daunting, but said he believes his status as a Penn student has protected him from the scrutiny of immigration officers.

“When you get into a university as prestigious as Penn, even the visa officer sort of gets that Penn wouldn't have accepted me if I posed any risk," he said. "So there's obviously benefits that come, even with immigration, with having a big name university.”

College sophomore Ed Barry from New Zealand agreed. He said that while visa application and interview processes remains strict, he does not think it will deter international students from applying to Penn anytime soon.

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