Officials are watching international enrollment at Georgia colleges and universities for 2003 anxiously, wary of the effect post-9/11 immigration policies may have on foreign nationals applying for student visas to study here, said Rick Sutton, director of international programs for the University System of Georgia.

            Early data at the Georgia Institute of Technology, reported this week, indicate at 57.5 percent increase over last year in the number of international students enrolled in the freshman class, in keeping with steady increases in international enrollment in Georgia for the past five years.

            But the fear of both international students already accepted to Georgia schools and university administrators alike is that delays in visa processing at U.S. overseas consular posts could result in late student arrivals for the start of fall semester.

            “Certainly new immigration requirements, part of homeland security initiatives, make it increasingly difficult for international students to get to the U.S.,” said Dr. Sutton.

            He told GlobalFax that a recent letter from Secretary of State Colin Powell to U.S. consular offices worldwide mandating priority processing of student visa applications for the start of the school year was encouraging.

            But the American Council of Educators and similar advocacy groups continue to make their concerns about student-related immigration known to the U.S. Department of State and the White House, he added, highlighting the economic importance of international students to schools and state economies.

            “Georgia’s international students contribute $200 million to the state’s economy, including non-resident tuition, room and board, and other costs, such as buying a car,” said Dr. Sutton.

Continued growth in this area is important to Georgia’s expanded networks worldwide, through international alumni for example, he said. 

He added that maintaining the upward pace of international enrollment would also be important for Atlanta as it continues its bid for the Free Trade Area of the Americas secretariat.