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Updated 16 March 2021

US universities hope for return of international students from Middle East

LOS ANGELES: Half of the international students at Los Angeles’ Woodbury University once came to the US from Saudi Arabia and other Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region countries to study fields ranging from architecture to filmmaking.
But Woodbury’s Dean of International Affairs, Mauro Diaz, said there has been a steady decline in the enrollment of international students over the past 5 years.

“We’ve gone from about 18 percent international students to about 8 percent at this point in time,” Diaz told us. “Obviously the COVID-19 has had an impact on it as well, but we’ve seen a significant decrease over the years.”

In 2001, 28 percent of students studying internationally came to the US. As of 2019, it’s down to 21 percent. Diaz cites policies such as the so called “Muslim ban,” which resulted in the visas of 60,000 people from the MENA region countries being provisionally revoked, as contributing to the decline.

“With those kinds of policies, they don’t feel like they’re at home and that makes it difficult for them to want to be here and also to look to the US for a place for their education,” he said.

The situation is reversible, and with the lifting of the travel ban and President Joe Biden’s planned reforms to the US student visa system, colleges like Woodbury could be seeing international students returning to campus.

“If you can feel at home in your education, you’re going to thrive,” said Diaz “That’s the environment that we as a country and as a university want to offer to our students in the Middle East.”