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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Colleges and universities are expecting the lowest foreign enrollment since World War II due to the pandemic’s travel restrictions and the Trump administration.

Why it matters: Foreign students are a vital source of revenue for U.S. universities, which are already suffering other revenue losses because of the pandemic.

  • They are also an important pipeline for high-skilled labor. After graduation, many provide temporary work in high-skilled fields through the Optional Training Program (OPT) and H-1B visas.

Driving the news: U.S. Immigration Customs and Enforcement (ICE) reinforced its March guidance that new international students are not allowed into the country if their courses go online only.

  • The State Department has also barred travelers coming directly from China, America's largest source of foreign students followed by India.

The big picture: U.S. colleges rely heavily on international students for their full tuition dollars and research prestige — most STEM programs have a majority of these students. Universities have already lost several revenue sources through athletics and housing.

  • The American Council on Education estimated a 25% decline of international student enrollment this fall and a $25 billion revenue loss for education institutions.
  • Schools don't have an official count yet for their fall enrollments, but many say their international students have deferred until the spring.

The state of play: U.S. embassies and consulate offices are just beginning to reopen, and both universities and students worry a backlog for visa approvals could persist into next year.

  • Some students under a travel restriction may even try to enter the U.S. through a third country, quarantine for 14 days and then board a plane to the U.S.
  • "We can never recommend that," Ravi Shankar, assistant vice provost and director of the International Services Office at the University of Rochester, tells Axios. "You have to make the decision that is best for you, but we say please take into consideration the safety and security when you’re considering going into a third country like Cambodia or Vietnam for example."

Enrollment offices are often the go-between for international students, helping them navigate other countries' travel restrictions and airline policies and providing health information to minimize fear of the virus, said Brian Ehrlich, vice president for enrollment management at the Florida Institute of Technology, whose student body is comprised of about 20% international students.

By the numbers: International students make up 6% of universities and colleges. They also contributed $41 billion to the U.S. economy in the 2018-19 school year, according to NAFSA.

  • More than 458,000 jobs were created by international students supported by their spending last year.
  • Unwelcoming immigration policies has been one of several reasons international student enrollment has been declining since 2016. The decline in recent years has cost the U.S. economy $11.8 billion and more than 65,000 jobs.

Trump's rhetoric and policies have already discouraged international students, said Ming Hsu Chen, a law professor at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

  • "The public health situation taps into deep-seated fears of immigrants bringing disease and otherwise posing a threat to American society. This has been true with Ebola, HIV, SARS and other episodes in history. Another reason is the fact that the coronavirus came from abroad and lets people reflexively think of closing borders as the solution."

The bottom line: Educational institutions were already in a fragile state before the pandemic. Now this potential exodus endangers their pockets and prestige.

  • The regulations "in the larger context will impact the ability and interest from international students to choose the United States as a destination for education. We’re losing the edge," Shankar said.

Go deeper

DeVos extends federal student loan relief to Jan. 31

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. Photo: Nicholas Kamm/AFP via Getty Images

The Trump administration is extending federal student loan relief, which includes a pause on payments and interest accrual, through Jan. 31, the Department of Education announced Friday.

Why it matters: Payments have been paused since March due to the coronavirus pandemic, but the relief was set to expire on Dec. 31 . The relief measures, which also include the suspension of collections of defaulted federal student loans, have helped mitigate some of the pandemic's negative consequences for millions of borrowers.

Microwave energy likely behind illnesses of American diplomats in Cuba and China

Personnel at the U.S. Embassy in Cuba in Havana in 2017, after the State Department announced plans to halve the embassy's staff following mysterious health problems affecting over 20 people associated with the U.S. embassy. Photo: Sven Creutzmann/Mambo photo/Getty Images

A radiofrequency energy of radiation that includes microwaves likely caused American diplomats in China and Cuba to fall ill with neurological symptoms over the past four years, a report published Saturday finds.

Why it matters: The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine's report doesn't attribute blame for the suspected attacks, but it notes there "was significant research in Russia/USSR into the effects of pulsed, rather than continuous wave [radiofrequency] exposures" and military personnel in "Eurasian communist countries" were exposed to non-thermal radiation.

Georgia governor declines Trump's request to help overturn election result

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp. Photo: Elijah Nouvelage/Getty Images

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp pushed back on Saturday after President Trump pressed him to help overturn the state's election results.

Driving the news: Trump asked the Republican governor over the phone Saturday to call a special legislative session aimed at overturning the presidential election results in Georgia, per the Washington Post. Kemp refused.