The U.S. departments of Education and State released a joint statement Monday expressing "a renewed U.S. commitment to international education."
The agencies' pledge does not contain policy specifics, but rather offers broad assurances and principles. They include the department following "a coordinated national approach to international education" by facilitating study abroad opportunities, research with other nations and internationalization of American classrooms.
The departments also said they would "foster increased cooperation" among the federal government, the private sector and institutions to protect certain intellectual property and research from "undue foreign influence and unlawful acquisition."
The Education and State departments' statement is a sea change for the international education sector following its years-long conflicts with the Trump administration.
Many higher education groups ascribe a downturn in international student enrollment in part to the former administration's inhospitable immigration policies. The number of international students in the U.S. dropped for the first time in more than 10 years during the 2019-20 academic year, according to an annual report.
The pandemic and related travel restrictions also severely exacerbated the challenges to foreign students studying in the U.S. The State Department said in late May, however, that international students from several countries including Brazil, China, India, and Iran who hold certain visas are exempted from coronavirus-related travel bans.
The State and Education departments are seeking to bring foreign students and researchers into the country "in a safe and secure manner" and have them contribute to institutions, according to the new statement. The agencies also want to encourage a diverse array of U.S. students and scholars to pursue international experiences and studies. Study abroad opportunities were also limited during the health crisis.
Higher education groups applauded the departments' missive.
Louis Caldera, co-founder of the Presidents’ Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration, said in a statement that the organization believed the Biden administration's forthcoming policies following the joint comments would help "reestablish U.S. preeminence in international education."
Peter McPherson, president of the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, said the statement represented "a critical step forward for international education and academic collaboration." He urged policymakers to advance a plan for attracting international students.
Higher ed groups have floated such strategies. The American Council on Education in February called for a coordinated effort to recruit and assist international students at U.S. institutions. This could include helping these students navigate admissions policies or connecting them with alumni after they graduate, according to an ACE report.
NAFSA: Association of International Educators in November also published policy recommendations for how the Biden administration could rebuild international education.