William and Mary staff discusses college's international students

Contact Reporterwwright@vagazette.com

Students at the College of William and Mary come from dozens of different countries. At a monthly business roundtable put on by the city’s Economic Development Authority, one staff member explained the benefits international students bring to the greater Williamsburg area.

The college has more than 1,000 international students, scholars and their dependents, most of whom hail from China. India, South Korea and the United Kingdom produce the next largest proportions of international students. Total student enrollment is more than 9,000.

Stephen Sechrist, director of the college’s Office of International Students, Scholars and Programs, said the chance for students to interact with peers coming from vastly different backgrounds is invaluable.

“You can’t substitute that opportunity to have conversations with people from around the world,” he said.

More people are choosing to come stateside to further their education, Sechrist said. Data from the National Association for Foreign Student Affairs recognizes more than $33 billion spent in America by more than 1 million international students.

That money, Sechrist said, is not just tuition. It also takes into account costs for housing, health insurance and other miscellaneous costs.

“They tend to have a high spending capacity,” he said of international students. “They have the disposable income to spend a semester or two over here studying.”

“The international students — I had no idea there were over 1,000 of them — the economic impact is pretty extraordinary,” said Rick Overy, vice chairman of the Economic Development Authority.

Once they’ve finished their stint at the college, many students head to other countries to begin careers in their fields.

But international students can work for one year at an American employer after graduation. Once that year is up, the employer has to sponsor the former student in order for them to keep working legally.

Since there are only so many visas to be had, some students prefer to take their chances overseas in lieu of being in limbo.

“Increasingly, we’re seeing students secure jobs overseas,” Sechrist said. “That’s largely due to the visa issue.”

William and Mary is in constant contact with officials in their advocacy for policies that are friendly to international students, Sechrist said. Locally, people can help international students as well.

“We can be welcoming to international students and their families,” he said.

Wright can be reached by phone at 757-345-2343.

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