- The Washington Times - Friday, November 29, 2002

The number of students from the Middle East who are attending colleges in the United States on scholarships has dropped 12 percent this year, mostly because of the delays caused by the new federal visa regulations adopted since the September 11 attacks, according to a new survey.

About 8,800 students from countries such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Syria and Qatar are enrolled this year at American institutions. Of that number, 600 students, or 6.8 percent, have not been able to return to or start school on time because of visa delays, the survey conducted by the Arab American Institute shows.

Last year, there were approximately 10,000 students from the Middle East attending American schools, the survey shows.

The latest figures are of concern to institute officials, who argue that the federal government should make the new visa process more efficient for foreign students, particularly those who want to come to the United States from the Middle East. In some cases, students are waiting up to three months to obtain a visa, the survey shows.

They argue that leaving the process alone could be harmful to the American economy.

"If the United States continues its current policy, we are at risk of losing international students to other countries," said Jean AbiNader, the institute's managing director.

"We must recognize that these students are the leaders of tomorrow. Foreign students are the conduits by which we communicate ourselves to the rest of the world. They should be encouraged to study in the United States.

"The September 11 attacks demonstrated only too well the consequences of cultures failing to communicate."

Mr. AbiNader said the institute agrees that stiffer guidelines should be adopted, but suggests the government could speed the process: It could notify students within a month whether they will get their visas so they can continue their studies.

"The system is so poor that what we're doing is turning many of these people off rather than encouraging them to come here," he said.

The institute surveyed the Arab embassies in Washington, Arab companies that provide U.S. scholarships and training for students, and organizations that coordinate international students.

The countries that participated in the survey were Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen. The institute did not receive responses from Algeria, Lebanon, Mauritania, Morocco and Tunisia.

The survey also showed that embassies and companies sponsored about 1,400 students this year, compared with 3,200 last year a 56 percent drop.

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