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A victory for international education in America

by Matias Brunet-Kirk November 15, 2020
A victory for international education in America

A new administration translates to optimism for international students.

For international students in the United States, a Biden-Harris presidency could mean positive change for their place in the country.

Openly anti-immigration Trump policies towards student visas and post-graduate work visas have severely damaged the country’s reputation as the top destination for international education. The president-elect will most likely change that.

The loss of prestige in America as an educational destination is just as clear in the data. Since Trump took office in 2016, the number of new student visas issued has plummeted by nearly half.

Throughout the campaign, Joe Biden and his team heavily concentrated their messaging around rebuilding America’s standing worldwide, especially on the education front.

Since the election was called on Nov. 7, he immediately pledged to reverse many Trump-era executive orders that discriminated against foreigners, such as the controversial ban on travellers from majority-Muslim countries in 2017.

During his victory speech in Wilmington, Del., Biden said it was “a great day for educators,” as his wife, long-term educator Dr. Jill Biden, will be assuming the role of first lady. “You’re gonna have one of your own in the White House,” Biden said, adding that teaching is “who she is.”

Biden has also pledged to reinstate the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) immigration policy that protects those who came to the US illegally as children.

DACA, which was put in place by the Obama administration in 2012, put undocumented immigrants who grew up in the US on the path to citizenship. This meant that these people would no longer be in a legal grey zone with regards to their status in the United States

According to a recent report by the Presidents’ Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration, there are approximately 450,000 undocumented people in post-secondary schooling in the US. DACA would protect over 200,000 of those students, also giving them access to federal loans and grants for schooling.

Roxane Jardel is originally from France and is currently pursuing her undergraduate studies in Political Science at McGill University.

“I come from quite an educated family,” she said, adding that going to an American Ivy League school had been an option when she was applying in 2017.

She decided against it, in part due to the politics at the time.

“I didn’t feel comfortable doing my undergrad in such an atmosphere,” said Jardel, adding that the discourse being vehicled by the Trump administration went deeply against her values.

Documents they published by the Department of Homeland Security show that the number of student visas issued went from over 600,000 in 2014 to just above 389,000 in 2019.

Data published by the Institute of International Education shows this has caused a plateau in the number of international students currently in the United States, averaging approximately 1 million at any given time since Trump took office.

The Trump administration also used the COVID-19 pandemic as pretence to implement further regulation.

In July, Trump attempted to deport international students who were forced to attend online classes due to public health orders.

The decision was heavily criticised by the academic community, with Harvard University even suing the administration over the policy; forcing Trump to back off.

Biden weighed in on the issue with a tweet posted on July 7, condemning Trump over the attempt. He praised the place of international students in American society, saying they “study here, innovate here, [and] they make America who we are.”

The Trump administration tried again this September when it proposed a bill that would force international students from 59 targeted countries to reapply for their visas every two years.

This meant that students were not covered on their F-1 visas for the entirety of their studies, meaning that an immigration decision could easily prevent them from completing their studies.

According to a poll conducted jointly by the University of California, Berkeley and the University of Minnesota, many Americans were worried about what another four years of a Trump presidency would do to international education in the country.

In a recent Teen Vogue article, Andrea Flores of the ACLU’s Equality Division said the election was “critical to the future continuation of foreign students in education programs in the United States.”

Jardel agreed with this.

“Trump does well at disgusting international students,” she said, relating it to how “the trivialization of extremist right-wing speech” has also pushed many students away in France.

She added that students who have the privilege of moving overseas for their education will rarely settle for a country that doesn’t reflect their values.

With Trump’s days in the White House now numbered, it is clear that circumstances for international students will change.

The number of international students in the United States nearly doubled during Obama’s presidency, which may be an indicator of how the future looks.

If Biden does in fact implement the policies on which he campaigned, the United States could regain the ground it lost on international education in the past four years, retaining its number one spot as international educator.


Graphic by @the.beta.lab

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