The Florida House of Representatives will soon vote on a bill that would have a great impact on international students throughout the state.
If passed, House Bill 21, sponsored by Rep. Dick Kravitz (R–Duval), would forbid state funds from being awarded to international students and would redirect them to in-state students.
Kravitz could not be reached for comment.
Rep. Ed Homan (R–Temple Terrace) co-sponsored the bill. He is a professor in USF’s College of Medicine.
The bill is vague in its language and does not clearly specify which funds would be affected. It says that all “state funds appropriated directly or indirectly to the institution” wouldn’t be able to be used “to provide financial assistance for any student holding an F-1 or M-1 visa.”
Homan said that amounts to about $8 million a year.
Director of International Student and Scholar Services David Austell said that F-1 visas are the most common among USF’s international students.
“To get the visa you have to say, ‘I’ve got the money to come,'” Homan said. “If to get the visa you have to be financially stable. I would hate to be giving scholarships to people from Saudi Arabia who already have a lot of money.”
He also said that part of having those types of visas is going back to their native country after schooling.
The bill’s stated goal is to provide more financial assistance to Florida residents, “Which will produce economic benefits by increasing the levels of higher educational attainment and earning potential of Florida’s citizenry.”
“What is more beneficial: educating one of our own who we know is going to stay in the state and work, or educating someone as a goodwill gesture who we know is going to leave?” Homan asked.
Austell places more emphasis on the importance of international students.
“It was put forward by well-meaning legislators who definitely do want to assist students who are residents of Florida,” he said. “The way they are trying to do this, to me, is not sensible, because it can have a negative effect on the presence of internationals in the state of Florida. I think the authors of the language simply don’t understand the entire repercussions of what can occur.”
According to ISSS, USF had 2,006 international students in the 2004-05 academic year.
The bill makes an exception that allows international students to be compensated for graduate assistantships and work-study programs.
Just over 40 percent (810) of the international students at USF are graduate students.
The bill, it seems, would eliminate scholarships directed solely at international students not offered by private donations. It would also affect more than just those scholarships; since no funds would be allowed to go to international students, they would not be eligible for any merit-based scholarships offered by the university.
The number of international students at USF peaked in the 2001-02 academic year at 2,573. Since Sept. 11, 2001, that number has been steadily declining at an average of 7.83 percent each year, and the federal government has passed legislation deterring foreign students.
The Student and Exchange Visitor Information System, or SEVIS, fee was introduced in January 2003. It is an extra fee the federal government imposed on international students to maintain a system used to track them.
HB 21, if passed, would deter international students from going to school in Florida.
“The authors simply are not really aware of what the international student scene is like in Florida,” Austell said. “Internationals bring a huge amount of revenue into the state.”
The net contribution of foreign students and their families to the state economy during the 2003-04 academic year is estimated at $584,605,000. The net contribution to the economy in just USF and its surrounding communities is $49,924.
Homan said that educating international students is essentially an act of benevolence on Florida’s part
“These are people coming for their education and going back home,” Homan said. “So it’s a goodwill gesture that we are educating them at our expense.”
HB 21 has passed through all of the necessary committees with little opposition. Its Senate equivalent of HB 21, Senate Bill 866, is currently in the Senate Judiciary Committee.