International students fear what will happen when Trump takes office

Published: 01/06/2017


American universities have long attracted students from all over the world with promises to prepare young people for careers in many different fields.

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Now, many of these international students are voicing concerns about their safety and President-elect Donald Trump’s threats to put restrictions on immigration and job opportunities.

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“I would say that I don’t have fears, more so concerns,” says Kevin Ang, an Indonesian senior studying finance at the University of Southern California. “My primary concern to Trump’s presidency would probably be in regards to how this would affect our chances of obtaining a work visa.”

Several universities have reached out to their international students to reassure them about their visa status and immigration laws. The New School in New York updated its website with Post-Election FAQs, while other institutions, including American University in Washington, D.C., contacted their international students through email.

“The day after [the elections], I heard from some people that students were concerned … the email was to reassure [students] that we were here to support them and to inform them,” says Senem Bakar, director of International Student & Scholar Services at American University. “The approach I was taking was from the immigration perspective, so I wanted to reassure students that the immigration laws were still there and that changes do not happen over night.”

The concerns surrounding immigration laws and international student visas are credited to Trump’s previous stand on the J-1 Visa Exchange Visitor program. In a policy paper published in summer 2015, the president-elect called for the elimination of the program, which colleges use to bring in foreign scholars and in some cases, students. Although the proposal is no longer mentioned on Trump’s campaign website, many students are still alarmed.

“Trump talked a lot about visas and immigrants throughout his campaign, and made his opinion very clear about how he felt towards outsiders,” says Preya Nair, an Indian freshman studying biology at Pennsylvania State University. “Even though we are in the country legally, we can’t help but feel that there’s always a chance that we may be targeted.”

In the 2015 to 2016 academic year, the number of international students enrolled in U.S. universities increased by 7%, reaching over 1 million people for the first time.

International students have a large presence in their university community, but also contribute to the overall wealth in the United States. According to data by the U.S. Department of Commerce, in 2014 international students contributed a total of $35.8 billion to the economy. These students also account for diversity in classrooms, as 5.2 percent of all U.S. higher education students are international, with greater proportions in some states.

Bakar says the steady increase in international enrollment rates and the value international students add to the economy as well as to the classrooms on campus mean the student visa rules and regulations will most likely stay the same or undergo very minor changes.

Trump has also wavered on the H-1B visa program, which grants temporary work visas to non-immigrant workers in specialty occupations. The president-elect has argued that this visa program hurts American salaries and employment rates. On the other hand, Trump also showed support for the H-1B program during the CNBC debate last October.

“It’s honestly very confusing. I think [international students] are worried because there is no certainty on Trump’s stance on us working and being in America,” says Tim Zhou, an American University student from China. “I think a lot of us are wondering whether our investment on higher education in the U.S. will be worth it in the long run, if we don’t have the chance to stay and work,” he said.

While many international students have concerns about the future, their American counterparts have voiced the significance of the international community on college campuses.

“International students offer other students a glimpse at what diversity outside of the U.S. looks like,” says Tess Colmey, an international relations major at the University of Maryland. “I think [international students] show people that we can coexist and learn and grow from each other. All it takes is some education, interest and respect. International students bring with them new ideas, ways of thinking and knowledge.”

Apart from the classroom and campus setting, some American students also say international students add value to the workplace.

Kristen Luft, a junior studying public relations at UNC-Chapel Hill, says that increasing international programs and allowing students to stay in America for a longer period would never be a burden to the country.

“I think international students are valuable not only in the education system but also the U.S. workplace because the amount of cultural difference and simply dissonant perspectives changes the way our country works,” Luft says.


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