The worth of international students should not be defined by their economic appeal

The Trump Administration has recently come under fire for their immigration policy related to international students studying in the United States. ICE, the federal law enforcement agency under the Department of Homeland Security, has said newly enrolled international students who are currently outside of the United States will not be allowed into the country. This policy comes in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic which has brutally affected the United States as universities scramble to plan online courses. However, it seems to be a symptom of xenophobia rather than the virus. 

President Trump has been unapologetic in his xenophobia, particularly against China. Throughout the pandemic, he has referred to the virus as “Kung Flu” and targeted East-Asian reporters regarding China’s response to the pandemic. Many East-Asians have faced further targets from bigots who do not know the difference between Chinese, Korean, the Philippines, and other nationalities in the region. Asian-Americans have faced numerous hate crimes on and off college campuses. In particular, international students have faced xenophobia amidst new ICE protocols. This has sparked debate surrounding the importance of international students and their value to universities worldwide. While the Home Office has not yet put similar policies into place, conversations have erupted surrounding international students in the United Kingdom. 

As of 2018, international students brought 20 billion pounds to the UK economy through both their tuition fees and spending habits. Each student coming from outside the UK or European Union is worth 102,000 pounds each, and these benefits dramatically outweigh the costs of housing them. Thus, many who disagree with Trump’s new policy have cited the enormous benefits these students bring to the economy, as these statistics are similar in the United States. This is problematic.

As an international student myself, I take issue with my worth being defined by my economic appeal. I should not be viewed as a walking number rather than a human being who is deserving of an education. However, as a white, English speaking person, this is merely a debate, a topic of discussion. Ultimately, I am a British citizen who did not have a three-year residency to receive the standard tuition rate. For non-white students, this is a common experience. 

Particularly for East-Asian international students, xenophobia is not abnormal. Since the Coronavirus outbreak these students have been racially targeted. The pandemic has been viewed as a ‘Chinese’ virus, and students of East-Asian descent have been persecuted on campus as a result. Even prior to the outbreak, these students have been targeted in what is supposed to be a safe learning environment. In conversations around international students on campus, many of my friends and colleagues will equate their worth to how much these students bring to Norwich economically. 

Should we not consider the wealth of cultural knowledge worthwhile? Why is it that we must justify a student’s existence with their economic contribution? This logic assumes international students view their education as a commodity exchange, rather than an opportunity like UK national students. International students come to the United Kingdom and make relationships, put down roots and have a life here. Furthermore, Chinese students are considered experts in their fields by US universities, contributing significantly to research.

International students are much more than their economic impact. They should be treated as students with hopes and dreams just as valid as those from the United Kingdom. Universities should do more to protect East-Asian students in the wake of the pandemic and consequential bigoted attacks. President Trump has made it clear he does not value Chinese students in this way, but the United Kingdom still has a chance to protect and value them. 

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Morgan Burdick

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September 2021
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