Category Archives: US Immigration

American Immigration, or Why We Aren’t Getting Married in Nepal

And while on tangents, here is a second one…

I’ve had the question on the blog before: Are you getting married in Nepal? And yesterday’s post should make it clear that we are not. But there is a reason for that too.

So as I’ve mentioned in the past, my day job (when I’m not secretly blogging during my lunch break or lulls in student appointments) is an international student advisor at a university in New England. I really love my job. I love working with and talking to people from around the world on a daily basis, I love helping them when they have problems or questions, and it is a lot of fun to be constantly learning new things about culture. It’s not so fun working with immigration regulations… although having a good knowledge of these tricky regs helps me to better serve my students when they come with questions. But… that means I really know what I should do immigration wise, and what I shouldn’t do, and that if I break the rules, I don’t have “ignorance is bliss” to fall back on if we are caught, and professionally I can’t affording getting in trouble with this topic.

I’ve read on some blog forums about people going to India and getting married, then coming back in to the US, and getting married at a later date. Occasionally these couples are graduate students. P is also a graduate student on an F-1 visa. Going to South Asia on an F-1, marrying an American spouse, then coming back in through US immigration and not declaring the change of status, and then later changing it once getting married in the US is technically an immigration violation.

An F-1 student visa is “non-immigrant intent” meaning IF your intension to immigrate to the US changes (such as marrying an American and planning to stay here—unless you make it crystal clear that you both don’t intend to stay, but will return to South Asia and not apply for permanent residency) and you leave the country and re-enter, you have violated your F-1 status. (Similarly the most common visa rejection reason is Section 214(b) of the US Immigration and Nationality Act– that you do not have enough ties to your home country, or that you have not overcome a presumption that you are using the visa to immigrate or work illegally in the United States.)

Violation of F-1 status is an offense that could potentially have your SEVIS record at your university terminated and have you sent back to your home country. If you are taking this regulation exactly by the book with a strict interpretation—even being engaged and traveling internationally and coming back in could be a violation of your status. Certainly the last thing you should do is waive an engagement or wedding ring in an immigration official’s face at the port of entry (even though you will be in two separate immigration lines anyway—the American national in the US passport/green card line, the foreign spouse in the non-US passport line).

The other potential problem is coming back into the US and marrying here and initiating the paperwork for a Change of Status from F-1 to Permanent Residency (Green Card). If the time is short (between your foreign spouse’s entry and the US wedding/paperwork) the US gov’t can potentially give you trouble when processing your Change of Status info because they can question your spouses, “intention to immigrate” when they last entered the country close to your wedding date. Do they always give trouble, probably not, but the potential is there.

If a foreign national plans to marry an American then technically (if we are going “by the book” here) they should come into the US on a K-1 (fiancé) visa. However then your partner could potentially be stuck outside the country for months waiting for the paperwork to clear before they could enter and marry. It is a perpetual frustration… US immigration rules make things so challenging, that it encourages people to break the rules.

On the flip side… you get married in the US first, then plan to go to Nepal… after you marry here you would have to initiate that same Change of Status paperwork and at least get “Advanced Parole” (travel papers) before you leave the US. That could be one month to several months (or more depending on the country, spouse name, etc) to receive that paperwork. So either way, you can’t do a wedding in the US and abroad within a few days of each other legally.

From what I hear, in the past you could get married at a court house and walk across the street to a US gov’t immigration center and get your Green Card the same day. But long gone are those days.

Anyway, besides the silly desire to want anniversary dates close to one another for memory and consistency purposes, my main worry was that if we did the wedding in the US first, and too much time passed before we were able to make it to Nepal, then people might feel… well… the wedding is over now, so much time has passed, let’s just leave the Nepali part. We can have a party to introduce you to relatives, but no point in doing the rituals.

I didn’t want the Nepali ceremony to go by the way-side because immigration and timing just couldn’t add up. Plus I was certain that few, if any, of my relatives would come to Nepal. My sisters, probably, but my parents, particularly my dad, definitely not. I thought it would be good to expose them to P’s culture while I had the chance.

So… this is why both weddings are in the US. P and I hope to travel to Nepal before the end of 2011—either during Dashain or December depending on immigration paperwork and time off from work, and perhaps we will have a gathering of family in Nepal as a wedding party, but at least the main events will have been taken care of by then, and no immigration rules would have been flagrantly broken in the making of our marriage.

Alright, I’ll take a break from wedding posts for a little while to give you all a breather :)

Int’l Students and Customs and Border Protection

Sorry—it seems like the past few days have been “share what C is reading” time on the blog, but I can’t help myself.

The Chronicle of Higher Education recently had an article on Customs and Border Protection (CBP) called Far From Border, U.S. Detains Foreign Students. Out of frustration, and as an international  student advisor, I wanted to share it (since the Chronicle is only available for a short time to viewers without a subscription to the site I’m going to copy and paste the text below. No copyright violations intended.)

I also wanted to post it because it discussed one CBP “hotspot” as being upstate New York, my home area, and several of the cases where students and professors have been harassed are around Postam, NY, which is just down the road from my alma mater. I remember seeing several CBP roadblocks set up on “Route 11” (the only “highway” on the western edge of northern New York State) when driving up to my university and back. As an American, I never had a problem, and I think the time or two I might have been stopped with P we had his paperwork. In particular I remember a dark skinned Indian professor from the Global Studies department at my school being bothered by the CBP on several occasions, once he was even carted off to a holding cell while the university scrambled to produce his paperwork.

I find this treatment of internationals despicable. I understand the need to “secure the borders” however harassing students and professors in this way is not the solution. As a lawyer cited in the article states, “It seems an insane policy to be arresting scientists, artists, professors, and students who have done everything properly and do a great job for our country.”

As a precaution I tell my students to keep photocopies of their I-94 card and passport photo ID folded up in their wallet. Although it isn’t the original documentation, it is some sort of proof of the original documentation, and might help if they are ever stopped—or at least it is better than nothing. According to the article:

Customs and Border Protection also maintains that it can set up roadblocks—it prefers the term “temporary permanent checkpoints” for legal reasons—and question people on trains and buses or at transportation stations anywhere within 100 air miles of a U.S. border or seacoast. This broadly defined border zone encompasses most of the nation’s major cities and the entirety of several states, including Florida, Michigan, Hawaii, Delaware, New Jersey, and five of the six New England states. The American Civil Liberties Union—concerned about the erosion of Fourth Amendment protections against arbitrary searches and seizures—has called it the “Constitution-Free Zone.”

Our Irish friend was traveling with his visiting parents up in New Hampshire over the summer and was stopped at one of CBP’s “roadblocks.” He didn’t have his passport, I-94 card, or I-20 documents on him, and the officer threatened to fine him $500! Luckily he was able to talk his way out of it… had he been of a non-European origin, he might not have fared so well. Ironically—later in the fall he was carrying his passport on him, and it was destroyed accidently by water— he had to apply for a new Irish passport, and go through the visa process again while home in Dublin for Christmas. He nearly missed his return flight due to consulate scheduling conflicts. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t!

I think my favorite example of CBP ridiculousness in the article was this:

A Potsdam student was briefly detained last summer while doing turtle research with her professor in a local swamp. “Border Patrol was there asking for documents,” Ms. Parker-Goeke says. “She’s in a swamp—she doesn’t have her documents.” The professor was able to persuade the agents to call the university to clear up the student’s status.

Sigh, anyway… As many of you, your partners, or your partner’s family, etc, might be international students in the US, I figured I’d share the article:

Far From Canada, U.S. Detains Foreign Students by Colin Woodward
(originally posted January 9, in the online edition of The Chronicle of Higher Education).

U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers check passengers' citizenship on a bus in Rochester, N.Y., more than 75 miles from Canada. Some college officials whose students have been stopped believe the customs agency has more resources than it knows what to do with.

Six miles north of the University of Maine’s flagship campus, on the only real highway in these parts, students and professors traveling south might encounter a surprise: a roadblock manned by armed Border Patrol agents, backed by drug-sniffing dogs, state policemen, and county sheriff’s deputies.

Although the Canadian border is nearly 100 miles behind them—and Bangor, Maine’s second-largest city, just 15 miles ahead—motorists are queried about their citizenship and immigration status. Those who raise an agent’s suspicions are sent to an adjacent weigh station for further questioning and, sometimes, searches. Any foreign students or scholars unable to produce all of their original documentation are detained and could be arrested.

Thus far, nobody from the University of Maine has actually been arrested at this ephemeral checkpoint, which usually appears near the start of the academic year, when migrant laborers happen to be leaving eastern Maine’s blueberry fields. One student had to wait at the roadblock until university authorities had satisfied agents that the individual was in the country legally, university officials say.

But elsewhere on the northern border, foreign students and scholars experience fear and uncertainty every time they leave campus, pick up a friend at the bus station, or board a domestic train or flight, even when they have all their documents with them.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection has greatly increased its manpower along the northern border, allowing for more-frequent use of roving patrols or surprise checkpoints on buses, trains, and highways far from the border itself. Students who failed to carry their original documents have been delayed and fined, apprehended even when they’re just a few miles from campus.

“We used to tell students: When you get here, put your passport and I-90 form away so you don’t lose it, because you don’t need anything special when you travel around the country,” says Thy Yang, director of international programs at Michigan Technological University, located a few miles from the shores of Lake Superior. “Now we tell them to carry it at all times.”

She adds, “Some students have gotten citations and a $75 fine for not carrying their documents, and they weren’t happy about it. We told them it could have been worse.”

For a broad category of students and scholars, even having one’s documents in hand and in order offers no guarantee against being arrested and locked up in a detention facility hundreds of miles away. University officials and immigration attorneys interviewed by The Chronicle told of nearly two dozen incidents in which students or scholars were inappropriately detained at domestic stops by customs officers. Most were in the midst of the lengthy but not uncommon process of changing their immigration status and had followed all the rules. Others were apparently detained because the agents were unaware that while a student’s visa might have expired, his or her permission to study in the country had not. All were in the country legally under the rules set forth by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which, like Customs and Border Protection, is part of the Department of Homeland Security.

“Border Patrol sometimes interprets immigration regulations differently than Immigration and Customs Enforcement and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services do,” says Ellen A. Dussourd, director of international student and scholar services at the University at Buffalo. “This causes a lot of difficulty for international student and scholar offices when they need to advise their international students and scholars about travel in the U.S.”

Frank A. Novak, an immigration lawyer at Harter Secrest & Emery, a law firm in Rochester, N.Y., says students and scholars typically run afoul of the customs agency when changing status from a nonimmigrant student or work visa (such as F-1, H1B, or O-1) to an immigrant one, perhaps because they have married a U.S. national or been offered a permanent job. They apply before their visa expires and receive permission to work, live, and travel until their application is processed, which may take years. “Inherent in the policy is that your old [nonimmigrant] status will expire,” he says, but customs officers sees this as grounds to arrest them.

“These people are following all the rules, but the government-enforcement authorities are detaining them and really wreaking havoc on their lives and scaring the heck out of them,” says Mr. Novak, whose clients have included foreign scholars so treated. “It seems an insane policy to be arresting scientists, artists, professors, and students who have done everything properly and do a great job for our country.”

‘Temporary Permanent’

Customs and Border Protection officials did not make themselves available for an interview, despite repeated requests. A written statement ignored questions on the topic, instead providing general commentary on the purpose of internal checkpoints. “CBP Border Patrol agents conduct these types of operations periodically in key locations that serve as conduits for human and narcotics smuggling,” the statement said. “These operations serve as a vital component to our overall border security efforts and help sustain security efforts implemented in recent years.”

Customs and Border Protection also maintains that it can set up roadblocks—it prefers the term “temporary permanent checkpoints” for legal reasons—and question people on trains and buses or at transportation stations anywhere within 100 air miles of a U.S. border or seacoast. This broadly defined border zone encompasses most of the nation’s major cities and the entirety of several states, including Florida, Michigan, Hawaii, Delaware, New Jersey, and five of the six New England states. The American Civil Liberties Union—concerned about the erosion of Fourth Amendment protections against arbitrary searches and seizures—has called it the “Constitution-Free Zone.”

Officials of several universities located within 100 miles of the Canadian frontier told The Chronicle that their foreign students and faculty have experienced few serious problems as a result of the checkpoints, though they now tell students to carry their original documents with them at all times. The institutions include the University of Maine at Orono, University of Vermont, Wayne State University, Michigan Tech, and Western Washington University.

“You’ll always have a quirk here and there or an error now and then, but for the most part, things are working pretty well at the border, and we don’t have any troubles away from the border at all,” says Linda Seatts, director of Wayne State’s Office of International Students and Scholars. “We’re just elated about that.”

In upstate New York, it’s a different story. For reasons that remain unclear, Customs and Border Protection has had an aggressive presence away from the immediate border, especially around the northern city of Potsdam or in central New York cities like Rochester and Syracuse, which are relatively far from the nearest border crossings. Area residents say Border Patrol officers maintain a near-constant presence at Rochester’s bus station and frequently question passengers at the airport. They regularly board domestic Amtrak trains passing through the area en route from Chicago to New York, where they shine flashlights in sleeping passengers’ faces.

“We’ve had hundreds of students questioned and stopped and inconvenienced, and perhaps a dozen students, scholars, or family members who’ve been detained or jailed,” says Cary M. Jensen, director of the International Services Office at the University of Rochester. “For international visitors who see people boarding trains, pulling people off, asking for documents, it feels a lot like East Germany did when I visited in 1980.”

Foreign students and scholars are often reticent to speak with reporters, but college officials and immigration attorneys in the region described several hair-raising examples of what they regard as inappropriate and worrisome detentions of members of their community in the past four years. These include:

  • A Pakistani undergraduate at the University of Rochester was pulled off a Trailways bus to Albany in 2007, who thought carrying his student photo ID was sufficient for a short domestic trip. Mr. Jensen says the student was held for two weeks at a detention facility before he and his family could appear before a judge and prove they were in the country legally, with an asylum application pending.
  • A Chinese student at the State University of New York at Potsdam’s Crane School of Music was seized on a domestic Adirondack Trailways bus for lack of original immigration documents. He was released after a few hours, but a few days later agents came to campus, arrested him, and locked him up for three weeks at a detention facility several hours away, where inmates nicknamed him Smart Boy. Although the student’s change-of-status paperwork was in order—and was approved while he was in detention—he missed the start of classes and had to leave the institution. “He was very scared, and by the end of it, his whole demeanor had changed,” says Potsdam’s international-programs coordinator, Bethany A. Parker-Goeke. “He ended up leaving the country. His parents wouldn’t let him go back to the U.S.”
  • A University of Rochester doctoral student bound for a conference at Cornell University was taken from a bus and detained for hours at a police station even though he had all his documentation and was in legal status. Mr. Jensen says the Border Patrol agent didn’t understand the student’s paperwork, although it was typical for someone who had changed from a two-year master’s degree to a seven-year doctoral program. “We helped clear it up, but he missed the conference,” Mr. Jensen recalls.
  • A scholar at an undisclosed institution in Rochester was arrested at the airport while on his way to visit his wife, a student at an institution out of state. Both had H1B visas, had applied for permanent residence status, and had permission from Citizenship and Immigration Services to live, work, and travel while their applications were adjudicated, according to their attorney, Mr. Novak. But Customs and Border Protection officers “treated him like a criminal and threw him in the clink. The wife didn’t dare come to pay the bond to get him out because they would throw her in jail, too.”
  • A Potsdam student was briefly detained last summer while doing turtle research with her professor in a local swamp. “Border Patrol was there asking for documents,” Ms. Parker-Goeke says. “She’s in a swamp—she doesn’t have her documents.” The professor was able to persuade the agents to call the university to clear up the student’s status.

“I have concerns for people who are legally here and making a great contribution but could get stuck in the system,” says Brendan P. O’Brien, director of the International Students and Scholars Office at Cornell University. Recently a foreign visiting-faculty member at the university missed a conference in Chicago because customs agents didn’t understand his change-of-status papers. “What’s happening is more than just a minor inconvenience.”

Too Many Resources?

It’s unclear why the situation in upstate New York is more serious than in other parts of the country, including areas with high border traffic volumes, like Detroit and northeastern Washington State. Some university officials and immigration lawyers suspect that Customs and Border Protection’s Rochester station has been given more resources than it knows what to do with, reportedly expanding from seven to 27 agents since May 2008. There are no ports of entry in its jurisdiction, which lacks a land boundary with Canada.

“Basically they have nothing to do, so they’ve come up with a really easy way to arrest a lot of people through internal enforcement,” says Nancy Morawetz, of the New York University School of Law, who has represented individuals caught up in the sweeps and procured arrest information from Customs and Border Protection via the Freedom of Information Act. The records have shown that less than 1 percent of those arrested on buses and trains in the Rochester area had entered the country within the past three days, and that none of them could be shown to have entered from Canada, she says. “I think that data is incredibly powerful,” Ms. Morawetz says, “because it shows that all this aggravation and hardship has essentially nothing to do with the Border Patrol mission” of securing the border.

“In a country where 5 percent of the population lacks status, it’s not hard to pick up bodies by going into any crowded station and asking people where they were born,” she says. “This isn’t about securing our borders. It’s about making life as uncomfortable as possible for those out of status and not caring how it makes foreign students or professionals feel.”

Customs and Border Protection headquarters did not make anyone available to discuss the programmatic purpose of the sweeps and checkpoints, and its written statement said only that it “performed in direct support of immediate border-enforcement efforts and as a means of preventing smuggling organizations from exploiting existing transportation hubs to travel to the interior of the United States.” An official who could speak for the situation in upstate New York did not keep a scheduled telephone interview.

The operations officer at the Swanton, Vt., sector office, Mark Henry, said it didn’t set up highway checkpoints to use excessive manpower. “We set them up based on intelligence,” he said. “Naturally our first concern is with terrorists and weapons of mass destruction, but we’re an all-threats agency, so it can be related to narcotics trafficking and all kinds of law enforcement.”

Some near-border institutions refused to discuss the effects of highway stops and roving patrols on their foreign students. The Swanton office of Customs and Border Protection occasionally sets up roadblocks on Interstate 91 in White River Junction, Vt., a few miles from Dartmouth College’s campus, but a spokesperson for the college, Sarah A. Memmi, said it would not “contribute to your story.” Similarly, officials at the international office of the University of North Dakota said the institution did not wish to comment on the situation in its region.

“Ever since 9/11, nobody wants to be painted as being indifferent to the terrorist threat, so schools advise people to avoid saying anything that might paint the institution as undermining counterterrorism enforcement,” said Victor Johnson, senior public-policy adviser at NAFSA: Association of International Educators. “That’s part of the reason we don’t hear that much about it.”

Fortunately, institutions report that foreign enrollments haven’t been affected, with several seeing substantial increases in recent years. The Rochester Institute of Technology, for instance, has seen 50-percent growth in its foreign enrollment since 2005, according to its director of international student services, Jeffrey W. Cox. “We’ve been active in preparing them for whatever they might encounter,” he said. Its advice: “When you leave the suburb of Henrietta,” where RIT is located, “always have your documents with you.”

“The F-1 Student Visa Process Explained”

Today at work I’m doing the annual “Cultural Adjustment Check-In” with my international freshmen. We reshow the Youtube videos from international orientation on culture shock and cultural adjustment, and see where students are in “phase II–or ‘what am I doing here?!'” and their coping strategies and questions (plus we give them lots of pizza).

I decided to show one of my favorite “Piled Higher and Deeper” PHD comicsThe F-1 Student Visa Process Explained.” As most of your significant others (or perhaps you the reader) are (or were at one point)  international students I figured you could appreciate it:

You can see the original at the link above if this looks a little blurry

DV Lottery Blues

The 2011 DV Lottery closed at noon on November 30. I had been bugging P to submit an application all month, but by the time he got around to checking it out the application time period closed (he thought he had until midnight that night). I was hoping he would at least try, because if he were randomly to “win” then he could get a green card, and potentially help us sort out some of our immigration related logistical issues. Unfortunately, P has always been a bit laid back about immigration stuff. Where many Nepalis I know apply like clockwork every year (including P’s brother), I’m not sure if P ever has himself.

So what is the DV Lottery? It is the “Diversity Immigrant Visa Lottery” also known as the “Green Card Lottery” administered by the US Department of State. According to Wikipedia, “Section 131 of the Immigration Act of 1990 amended INA [Immigration and Nationality Act] 203 to provide for a new class of immigrants known as ‘diversity immigrants’ (DV immigrants). The Act makes available 50,000 permanent resident visas [‘Green Cards’] annually to persons from countries with low rates of immigration to the United States.”

Essentially anyone can apply as long as you are not on the “ineligible country list” based on current immigration trends, this list includes: Brazil, Canada, China (mainland-born), Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, India, Jamaica, Mexico, Pakistan, Peru, Philippines, Poland, South Korea, UK and Vietnam. All correctly filed and relevant applications are put into a “lottery drawing” and 50,000 visas are awarded each year.

Wikipedia continues, “The visas are distributed on a regional basis, with each region sending fewer immigrants to the US in the previous 5 years receiving more diversity visas. Currently, Africa and Europe receive about 80% of the visas in the lottery. In addition, no single country can receive more than 7% of the total number of visas (3,500).

In order to allow for those who do not pursue immigrant visas, more ‘winners’ are selected in the lottery than there are visas available. Hence being selected from the lottery does not guarantee an immigrant visa to the U.S. To receive a diversity visa and immigrate to the United States, ‘winners’ must meet all eligibility requirements under U.S. law. Requirements include at least a high school diploma, or its equivalent, or two years of work experience in an occupation requiring at least two years training.”

There are quite a few Nepalis in the US now through the DV Lottery (including the Nepali woman who threaded my eyebrows over the weekend… she arrived three months ago with her DV, and a master’s degree in sociology). In the 2010 drawing (last year) 2,132 DV’s were awarded. This is about the average given out each year for Nepal… in 2009 1,891 were awarded and in 2008 there were 2,562. However millions of people (worldwide) apply. Putting in your application doesn’t necessarily guarantee you.

For example, P’s dad has submitted an application every year for the past 5-8 years. When he went for his visa interview in 2008 in preparation for the family visit to the US that summer, the consular officer asked if he was planning to immigrate to the US if given a tourist visa since, “I see you have applied for the DV religiously over the years.” When applying for a tourist or student visa the key is to prove that you will not overstay your visa and illegally immigrate (or in the case of students, that you will continue working in the US after you graduate even though many do), and thus the burden of proof is on you to show that you have reason (land, family, job, etc) to return. P’s dad planned to return but had some explaining to do to the official before finally receiving his required tourist visa.

Yet to show you the randomness of the lottery… a friend of ours from New York landed in the US with a DV a few years ago. As a student in Nepal he had heard of the DV but honestly thought “no one ever actually wins.” One day at university (back in Nepal) many of his classmates were filling out the DV application and his friend started pestering him… “come on, you have to do it, you never know!” Our friend eventually said fine, filled out the information, and gave it to his friend to send in. When the DV selections were made, our friend didn’t even check the list. He never even thought to look. Ironically (of course), he was on the list, and the friend who urged him to apply (and wasn’t selected) had to let him know. This was a guy who probably never would have come to the US on his own, and here he was, 21 years old, given a visa and sent to the US to start a new life alone. It was tough. He missed his family. He had no one to lean on for support. He spent long nights working at Indian restaurants and driving taxi cabs and days working at the university towards a degree. It took him many years to finish undergrad.

I kind of think the DV is a bit interesting and a bit weird (not in a good way or bad way, just in a… hmmm kind of way). When I hear people complain (especially in this recession) about how “ridiculous” it is to award 65,000 H1B work visas to qualified international students and workers each year when we have plenty of Americans looking for work (and I have students who have spent many years of their life studying so they can get a good job in the States, and are now left without a lot of options and having to return home), then we have this lottery which is a lot more random and permanent, and most people know very little about it, and… I don’t know… sometimes I just don’t get it.

I know the DV helps people… I have a Bulgarian friend from college who has a great job in New York City, and was selected for a DV, and now has permanent residence. He and his American fiancé have less immigration hurdles, and his work and personal life are more settled and stable because his immigration status has been finalized. But then there are others… like P’s dad’s friend, who won the DV lottery and moved to the US with his wife and younger son. Both have university degrees from Nepal (his wife has a master’s in English) but all they can do is work at a Subway sandwich shop. They came to the US to give a better life to their son and the DV Lottery gave them a legal channel in which to do this, but they are frustrated that as working adults their options in the US are limited.

So anyway, it is an interesting program that I don’t think many people know about. I am kind of on the fence about it. It definitely has good points and not so good points. However, it would have been nice to at least have P put his application in for once…

Nepali Students in the US

I was reading the Chronicle of Higher Education today at work, and last week’s paper had a lot of information on international student trends based on the newly released Open Doors reports. I was particularly interested to see reports of the number of Nepali students studying in the US.

I know I am kind of biased, since I am now seemingly “tapped into” the Nepali community (at least while around P)… so I feel like I run into Nepalis all the time (case in point—I went to get my eyebrows threaded with R over the weekend in Connecticut and she was “Nepali ho?”-ed), whereas growing up I never would have imagined bumping into someone from this small Himalayan country. Anyway, regardless of the connection, recently I have felt that I see more and more Nepalis around. I guess Open Doors confirms the phenomenon (at least from the student angle, I won’t even get into the DV Lottery).

According to the Chronicle, Nepal was number 11 out of a list of the top 20 countries of origin for foreign students in the US during the 2008-2009 academic year, with a reported 11,581 students studying here. I guess 11,581 students doesn’t sound like a whole lot, particularly compared to the number one and number two countries India (103,260) and China (98,235) but I was surprised that Nepal even made the list considering it is such a small country (only 29 million compared to India’s and China’s billion plus populations). The article continues that in 2008 there was a 29.6 percent “surge” over the number of Nepalis studying in the US in 2007.

I have mixed feelings about the large number of Nepali students coming to the US. Of course I feel that it is important for everyone to have access to quality education, however with the exodus of so many young Nepalis to other countries I wonder what will happen to this nation which is still struggling to keep itself out of further civil war.

I’ve had this conversation a few times with P’s dad, who is firmly of the opinion that everyone and anyone possible should study in the US, and most likely stay here afterward to work and have a “better life.” My argument to him is that if the “brain drain” keeps all the best people away who will help to rebuild the Nepal of tomorrow? Friends of mine often talk about how when they visit Kathmandu most of their high school buddies are gone, not many seem to be around anymore… most of the young and educated have seemingly left to study and start a life abroad.

I know I have no right or place to judge people who leave as students and stay abroad, Nepal certainly has its many many problems– but I have a lot of respect for people who go back, I can’t help but feel it is impressive and courageous. Heck, perhaps one day, a few years down the road, I’ll be one of those who goes as well!

I have no illusions to the fact that the decision to stay or return home is a tough one, and the whole later section of this post could be a post in and of itself, so I won’t really get into it further than this—I am sure it could be a heated discussion anyway.

For those who are curious, the full list of 20 countries are as follows:

Top Countries of Origin of Foreign Students in the United States, 2008-9

1)      India 103,260                                     11) Nepal 11,581
2)      China 98,235                                       12) Germany 9,679
3)      South Korea 75,065                         13) Brazil 8,767
4)      Canada 29,697                                   14) Thailand 8,736
5)      Japan 29,264                                      15) Britain 8,701
6)      Taiwan 28,065                                    16) Hong Kong 8,329
7)      Mexico 14,850                                   17) Indonesia 7,509
8)      Turkey 12,263                                    18) France 7,421
9)      Vietnam 12,823                                 19) Colombia 7,013
10)   Saudi Arabia 12,661                         20) Nigeria 6,256

Source: Chronicle of Higher Education