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The US has been among the top 10 preferred study destinations for Malaysian students. As per IIE Open Doors data, Malaysia has sent a consistent number of students (primarily undergraduates) to the US. Since 2017/18, however, these numbers have been steadily declining. Like most international students in the US, 2020 proved particularly difficult for Malaysian students stranded in the US. For Malaysian parents and students, safety, affordability and employment opportunities remain the key attributes for choosing a study abroad destination. The Biden presidency’s proposals for immigration reform are welcome as they offer visa stability and a more hopeful outlook for international students. In addition, President Biden’s policy shifts towards more inclusive international trade augurs well for Malaysia and the wider ASEAN region. 

These could be crucial deciding factors for Malaysians considering the US to pursue higher education opportunities. 

While the world watched the historic Biden-Harris inauguration, the appointment of Jocelyn Yow as the youngest woman mayor of colour of a California city in December 2020 caught the imagination of Malaysian students aspiring to study abroad. Yow’s father was an international student in the US in the 1980s where he met Yow’s mother, a Vietnamese refugee. Yow’s family returned to Malaysia shortly after her birth and she spent over 10 years in Alor Setar, Kedah in northern Peninsula Malaysia. The 25-year-old Yow is an alumnus of the University of California, Berkeley and is pursuing a Master’s degree in government at Harvard Extension School. 

Yow’s appointment has made history and she has since spoken widely of her experiences to fellow Malaysians. Her shared experience with Vice President Kamala Harris of having a parent who had been an international student in the US has certainly shone a light on the US higher education space. With Malaysia aiming to roll out its vaccination program by end-February and considering an immunity passport to revive international travel, it is hoped that Malaysia-US student mobility returns to pre-2016 levels.

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