“”Frankly, I think…kicking every Russian student out of the United States,” said Rep. Eric Swalwell (D–Calif.) on CNN last week, should “be on the table.” Rep. Ruben Gallego (D–Ariz.) backed him up, tweeting, “These Russian students are the sons and daughters of the richest Russians. A strong message can be sent by sending them home.”
This is a misguided proposal that will drive a wedge between the U.S. and people who would be well-served by American values. Rather than expelling Russian nationals who are uninvolved in the sins of their government, we should be welcoming them with open arms and encouraging them to engage with our values.
Some 5,000 Russian students were studying at American universities in 2021, according to the Institute of International Education. Demand among young Russians to study abroad has grown steadily over the past several decades. In 2019, roughly 75,000 Russians were attending foreign universities, at least four times higher than the early 2000s level. As of 2015, the U.S. ranked only behind Germany as the top destination for Russian students completing their educations abroad.
Even during the days of the Soviet Union, the U.S. recognized the importance of maintaining cultural exposure. America welcomed “some fifty thousand…scholars and students, scientists and engineers, writers and journalists,” and others from the Soviet Union under exchange programs between 1958 and 1988, per former U.S. diplomat Yale Richmond. Cold War–era exchange programs “fostered changes that prepared the way for [Mikhail] Gorbachev’s glasnost, perestroika, and the end of the Cold War,” Richmond argued. President Dwight D. Eisenhower even “wanted to bring 10,000 Soviet students to the United States” at one point, according to Richmond.
It’s true that Russians from influential and wealthy families seek out an American education. But to claim that each of the 5,000 Russian students here is rich—and that sending them all home would hit Putin where it hurts—is simply incorrect. And if massive, debilitating sanctions meant to cut Russia off from the global economy haven’t yet convinced Putin to stop his assault on Ukraine, it’s hard to see how expelling Russian students would. “The more likely outcome,” Stuart Anderson of Forbes writes, “would seem to be ruined education plans and sympathetic coverage in Russian state media of young people, it would be argued, who were unfairly targeted by the U.S. government.”
Anderson points out, correctly, that a blanket expulsion policy would harm some Russian students fleeing persecution themselves.”