PORTLAND, Ore. -- Mahamadou Sissoko is from Mali in West Africa. He’s the oldest of eight kids. Sissoko decided to go to Portland State University to study finance. He's hoping to get a good education at PSU so he can take care of his family back in Mali.
“That would give me more chance to do more in the future,” he said.
But Sissoko and other international students say they feel the future is uncertain, especially with the president's travel ban. It's in the process of being decided in the courts. The U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals is scheduled to hear arguments in May.
“The ban wasn't about my country directly but it took away the feeling of security,” said Sissoko, who is Muslim.
A report out last month found 40 percent of colleges across the country have seen a decline in foreign applicants.
School officials at PSU have seen a drop, too.
“On the graduate side we're seeing a pretty significant decline in Indian applications. Right now we're down 23 percent and India is our largest graduate international population,” said Margaret Everett, PSU’s Vice Provost of International Affairs.
Everett said the drop is likely due to a number of reasons, including fear about violence against Indians, the travel ban and India's economy.
While she said applications from prospective students in other countries are about the same as last year, it's still early and things could change.
“We're very concerned in what will happen moving forward with international students from all countries,” said Everett. “We have a concern that the tone in the U.S. is less welcoming to international students than we would like it to be.”
Zach Wang is here from China studying accounting at PSU. He's about to graduate and is currently looking for a job. This week the president signed an executive order related to foreign work visas. Wang said if it's harder for him to find opportunities here in the U.S., he may look elsewhere.
“If I am going to lose the chance to work here […] then the chance for me to go to Canada for learning is more,” Wang said.
Sissoko said his parents have been worried and he has considered attending school in Canada. He said if the U.S. doesn’t improve it’s image, many international students may opt to attend school and find work in another country.
“International students bring a lot of money when they come inside of here, not only money but cultural knowledge,” said Sissoko.
“We share our culture to those who cannot study abroad,” he said.
PSU is a sanctuary campus. It along with colleges across the country, is promoting messages of inclusion that tell international students they’re welcome.
“It does make me a feel a little safe,” said Mathias Sunardi, when talking about PSU’s sanctuary status. Sunardi is an international student from Indonesia, getting his PhD working with robotics.
The Association of International Educators found that international students contributed more than $30 billion to the U.S. economy over the 2015-2016 school year. In Oregon, international students contributed more than $480 million.