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Virginia Tech Shootings Cause Worry Among Foreign Students in US


The deadly shooting spree at a Virginia university has sent a chill through America's large foreign student population and, according to experts, could affect foreign enrollment in U.S. colleges and universities for years to come. VOA's Michael Bowman reports from Washington.

Like the suspected shooter in Monday's bloody rampage, Sang Yun Nam is a student of Korean descent at Virginia Tech. Sang, who goes by the name Justin, says he had seen the suspected shooter on campus, but did not know him personally. Not only is Justin trying to cope with the tragedy that befell his university, he told VOA he is worried that the shooting incident could sour America's view of foreign students and those of foreign-born families, making life more difficult for him and hundreds of thousands of others.

"Remember in [the aftermath of] 9/11, all the Middle Easterners had a hard time checking in at airports and stuff like that. So, many people are worried that it is going to be hard for them to get visas to come to the United States, to get their permanent residency, their citizenship and everything," he said.

The United States has historically been a magnet for many of the world's brightest pupils. 2001 saw the highest number of student visas ever issued by the United States, more than 293,000. That number plummeted by nearly 80,000 in the two years after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, but have gradually climbed since. In 2006, the State Department issued more than 273,000 student visas.

What effect will this week's shooting incident have on future foreign enrollment in American colleges and universities?

"Well, it certainly does not help," said Vic Johnson, a public policy director at the Washington-based Association of International Educators. "The United States has a reputation abroad for being a dangerous country because of our gun culture. Parents are often reluctant to send their kids to study in the United States for that reason. So this sort of thing [Monday's shooting spree] obviously plays into that perception."

Johnson notes that there are a variety of factors that tend to discourage foreign students from coming to the United States: stringent visa requirements imposed after 9/11, heightened security measures at America's ports of entry, and an overall perception that Americans have become more suspicious and less accepting of foreigners in general.

Johnson says he hopes any drop-off in foreign student enrollment in the United States will be temporary. He says the nation benefits enormously from having future world leaders, businessmen, leading scientists and others come to study in the United States -- and would lose one of its best assets on the world stage if the flow of foreign students were to diminish.