Rise in international students brings economic impact to Birmingham

Impact of international students at UAB, other schools in Alabama
Published: Aug. 20, 2023 at 10:59 PM CDT
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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC) - The number of international students at UAB and other schools in the state is growing, which brings rich culture to our area, but it also brings a strong economic impact.

“I love playing futbol. But when I came here, I was like, I was telling everybody, I was like, ‘I play futbol,’ And they were like, ‘Patriots, Kansas’, And I was like, ‘no, Barcelona, PSG, Real Madrid,” said Nabaa Naveed, an international student at UAB, explaining how the difference between futbol and football was just one example of the cultural differences she faced coming to America, especially as a young adult.

“Leaving our family, friends and everything that we we had ever known... We leave that to come here,” Naveed said. She was 19 when she moved to Alabama from Pakistan to study Biology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

Naveed makes up nearly 1 million international students at United States colleges and universities, who contribute almost $34 billion dollars to the US economy, and according to Shadi Martin, Ph.D., vice provost for graduate and international education at UAB, Naveed is not alone.

“We thought this was backlog post-COVID, but what’s interesting is that we have seen about [a] 34% increase in the number of our international students year after year since COVID-19.

Economic contributions from international students are still below pre-pandemic levels. However, on average, for every three international students, one United States Job is created or supported. Alabama’s international students support over 2,000 jobs locally.

Martin says there is a shift in which regions their international students are coming from.

“We had a lot of students who came from China. That number has shifted as Chinese universities are investing much more in their own regional universities. We are seeing a significant number of students coming from India right now, we have students coming from the Middle East, we have students coming from Africa from South America.,” Martin said.

Birmingham is smaller than some cities Naveed was considering for school, but she said it has shown to be a great fit for her.

“It’s like a hidden gem in Birmingham, Alabama that a lot of people don’t know about,” Biology student Naveed said.

She said she loves studying here because there are a lot of opportunities for scientific fieldwork.

“There’s a lot that I can do. I want to do fieldwork with my degree with Biology...I can work in a lab or do actual field fieldwork, like going to like the Amazon Forest or Antarctica,” Naveed said.

The opportunities for students and the impact it brings on the job force are powerful, but fellow students and the state gain something invaluable from those who come from abroad, Martin pointed out.

“They really have an impact on the way that we look at each other and the understanding that they bring to the world,” Martin said.

She explained one way to help international students is to contribute to a new emergency fund she has created for international students who have extraneous circumstances.

Another way to help is by donating furniture or volunteering to help move it into students’ residences this fall. One group, the Navigators International Community, will be helping international students with this on August 26th. Use this link to reach out about this event.

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