While Prime Minister Shinzo Abe appears to have succeeded in building cozy ties — at least for now — with U.S. President Donald Trump, the president’s controversial executive orders and remarks have made some Japanese students aspiring to study in the U.S. think twice about their choice of destination.
During his recent summit with Trump in Washington and golf outing in Florida, Abe reaffirmed the importance of the Japan-U.S. bilateral security alliance and avoided direct criticism from Trump over Japan’s trade and currency policies.
Japan is not among the countries under Trump’s now court-halted travel ban. But students are baffled by the unpredictable real estate tycoon and fear the U.S. living and study environment may change for the worse in the near future.
“I thought the U.S. was the best place to study English. But seeing Trump made me a bit scared to live there,” said Eri Nakayama, 23, who was at a study-abroad seminar held last week in Tokyo’s Shinjuku Ward. “Such anxiety has increased, and now I’m starting to look for other options, like the U.K., Australia or New Zealand.”
Nakayama, who has an English teaching license but wanted to brush-up her skills, said she hadn’t told her family about her plan to study in the U.S. because it may worry them, especially her sister, who had expressed concerns about America after Trump’s win.
“If she finds out the U.S. is one of my candidate destinations, I think she will try to talk me out of it,” Nakayama said.
Such anxiety over going to live and study in the U.S. under a Trump presidency is shared by other students, according to Ryugaku Journal Inc., a major provider of study abroad information and services.
Apart from perhaps Trump’s most contentious executive order — the temporary ban barring U.S. entry for people from seven Muslin-majority countries — other orders include building a wall along the Mexican border and withdrawing from the multilateral Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact.
During the presidential campaign, Trump even called illegal immigrants from Mexico “criminals” and “rapists.”
The president has, meanwhile, blamed Tokyo for not paying enough to host U.S. military bases, for manipulating its currency and for charging high import taxes while paying lower fees on its exports, including cars, to the U.S.
“Concerns we’ve heard the most in the past month from students was this vague sense of uneasiness. Statements by Trump have made them worried that they will never know what is going to happen next,” said Yukari Kato, vice president of Ryugaku Journal.
Some voiced more specific worries, including the possibility of losing a chance to engage in optional practical training, which allows students to work in the U.S. for a year after completing their study to gain practical training, as well as tougher student visa terms, Kato said.
Others said their parents were concerned about a possible increase in racial discrimination in the U.S., Kato said.
After Trump’s victory on Nov. 8, the company received emails from more than 10 American universities, all of which gave assurances that regardless of what Trump said, they would welcome international students and continue to provide a safe environment, she said.
The U.S. has long been the most popular study-abroad destination for Japanese students. But as other English-speaking countries beef up their efforts to lure more international students in recent years, America’s dominance is slipping.
According to the U.S.-based Institute of International Education (IIE), Japanese students in the U.S. numbered 19,060 in 2015, compared with 46,406 in 1998.
The IIE said the decline is also linked to the shrinking number of youth in Japan amid a rapidly aging society and low birthrate.
The Trump factor may accelerate the declining popularity of the U.S. among students.
In an informal survey of 200 students on Facebook conducted by Tokyo-based Ryugaku Information Center after the November election, 136 respondents, or nearly 70 percent, said they had more worries over going to the U.S. than before the election.
“As there was a lot of negative news (on Trump), some asked us whether it would really be OK to go to the U.S.,” said Satoshi Umezawa, a spokesman at Ryugaku Information Center.
“But as for Japanese students studying in the U.S., I believe they are welcome (by the Trump administration), considering that international students are basically people who spend money in the U.S.,” Umezawa said.
The IIE’s website says that in 2015, Japanese students in U.S. colleges and universities contributed $620 million to the U.S. economy.
Meanwhile, some were not worried about rapidly changing U.S. policies, given that Japanese nationals so far have not been directly targeted by Trump’s immigration crackdown.
“Of course I don’t like his racially discriminatory remarks, but I see no problem in going to the U.S. My parents are also not worried about the effects of the Trump administration,” said Yuki Fukuzawa, 22, a university student in Tokyo who is planning to study English overseas this year.
Kato of Ryugaku Journal said one attractive aspect of studying in the U.S. is its multicultural environment, where they can meet people from all over the world.
“I believe we can make our country better by learning about other countries and people from other cultures,” Kato said.
“I hope the U.S. will continue to be the country where people from many different countries can come.”