By David Douglass
Perspectives on international trade and education were among the topics when NCSL’s International Relations Task Force (IRTF) met in New Orleans in January 2019.
Approximately 17 task force members attended the meeting, which coincided with NCSL’s quarterly Executive Committee meeting.
The IRTF agenda kicked off with brief welcoming remarks by two of the three IRTF co-chairs, Senator Curt Bramble (R-Utah, NCSL’s immediate past president) and Speaker Pro Tempore Greg Snowden (R-Miss.), who invited the attendees to describe how international activities are handled in their states, both at the level of the legislature and by specific jurisdictional committees.
Matt Gresham, director of external affairs for the Port of New Orleans, spoke to the role of ports in the lower Mississippi River with the broader national economy, specifically with respect to trade. He cited recent data from the U.S. Census Bureau estimating the value of trade at his port exceeding $12 billion per month and exceeding $125 billion for 2017.
Two administrators from local universities described their respective school’s perspectives on international student enrollment.
Hector Zapata, associate vice provost for international programs at Louisiana State University, spoke of recent reports about the decline in numbers of new international students coming to U.S. colleges. While the overall numbers of international students have increased, new undergraduate student enrollments fell by 6.6% in 2017-18, according to surveys conducted by the Institute of International of Education.
Current gains in the total number of international students are due primarily to increased participation—a growth of 15.8% in 2017-18—in the Optional Practical Training program, which allows international students to practice their skills in the United States during or after they complete their academic programs.
Kristy Magner, director of the Office of International Students and Scholars at Tulane University, described some of the immigration challenges confronting would-be applicants, discussed several economic and non-economic benefits of international scholar matriculation, and touched on the influence that states have on shaping the experience of international students.
Speaker Pro Tempore (and IRTF member) Brian Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.) described a program in his state which accepts the lawfulness of other countries’ driver’s license application processes and testing procedures. This arrangement illustrates a measure of flexibility and openness on the part of states toward international jurisdictions.
David Douglass is a policy specialist in NCSL’s International Program.