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Visa clarity: Mission Mexico conducts student-travel outreach.

International students hoping to study in the United States are often stymied by such questions as, "Are there any scholarships or grants available?" and "What type of visa do I need?" Since international students contributed 340,000 jobs and $26.8 billion to the U.S. economy in the 2013-14 academic year alone, and their travel builds bilateral bridges, President Obama has made promoting study in the U.S. and abroad a priority. His 100,000 Strong in the Americas initiative seeks to send 100,000 Western Hemisphere students to study in the United States and 100,000 U.S. students to study throughout the Western Hemisphere by the year 2020.

Given the long and active U.S.-Mexico border and the important cultural, social and economic ties binding the nations, the United States and Mexico have key roles in this initiative. Mexico now aims to send 100,000 Mexican students to the United States to study and host 50,000 U.S. students in Mexico by 2018. To facilitate student travel under these bilateral initiatives, Mission Mexico is engaging more partners and informing more students.

One popular outreach method is for consular officers and Locally Employed (LE) Staff to speak at local universities about the student visa process. Foreign Service officers and staff tell students of the different types of student visas and what happens in the visa interview. To develop their presentation materials, officers and LE staff at the U.S. Consulate General in Guadalajara drew upon resources produced by posts in Brazil, China and India to create Spanish materials that were posted on the Mission Outreach SharePoint site. Guadalajara Nonimmigrant Visa (NIV) Chief Paul Schultz said the materials will not become dated quickly and can be used throughout the mission.

NIV officers at the U.S. Consulate General in Nogales have since downloaded the materials and adapted them for their presentations at two universities in that city. There, they shared personal experiences about studying in the United States and explained the student visa application process. These events drew good attendance of about 50-60 students and resulted in lively discussions. The U.S. Consulate General in Tijuana held similar events over the past year, including seven live presentations at the consulate and at local universities and high schools.

Posts in Mexico also coordinate college fairs. Despite security challenges in parts of Mexico, the mission has attracted representatives from a wide variety of U.S. higher education institutions interested in recruiting Mexican students for U.S. study. As part of these efforts, consular, public diplomacy and LE staff members are working with U.S. universities to provide students in Mexico with information and materials about U.S. study. Organizers at the U.S. Consulate General in Monterrey, for example, held a college fair in May that featured 30 U.S. universities and drew approximately 200 Mexican students and parents. Prior to the event, the Monterrey team consulted with Consulate General Ciudad Juarez on best practices and potential recruiter contacts, and built upon lessons from Nuevo Laredo's college fair to develop a speaker program on student visas and a presentation by EducationUSA.

Consulate General Nuevo Laredo's third annual college fair this year hosted more than 400 students and family members, and included representatives from several U.S. educational institutions; 30 colleges provided admissions materials. From 2012-2014, Consulate General Ciudad Juarez worked with U.S. colleges and local partners to organize and participate in several college fairs in the state of Chihuahua, re-establishing relationships between higher education institutions in Chihuahua and the United States.

The mission also uses technology to disseminate its student travel messages. Embassy Mexico City's NIV unit, for instance, posts information once or twice a week on social media about international student travel, reaching as many as 78,000 people per post. The embassy also held a Google Hangout session with more than 250 participants and conducted four radio and TV interviews about the student visa process. During a one-hour radio interview, callers and people on Twitter posed more than 30 questions. The radio show producer then retweeted all the questions to the embassy's Twitter account for follow-up. As a multiplying factor, the embassy also posted the radio and TV interviews on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. (Posts throughout Mexico often repost information for their readers originally posted by the embassy.)

Coordination of these efforts has saved time, as organizers of outreach events avoid duplicating others' efforts. This will hopefully increase the number of students studying in the United States, building bridges of understanding and improving the economies of both countries.

By David Merrell and Alex Parcan, vice consuls, U.S. Consulate General in Guadalajara, Mexico
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Author:Merrell, David; Parcan, Alex
Publication:State Magazine
Date:Jul 1, 2015
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