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Immigration Policy From the Eyes of an International Student

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.

According to the Institute of International Education (IIE)’s Open Door Report annual census, in 2021, the United States recorded 710,210 international students in higher education institutions. Such numbers have been rising since 2007, only declining following the COVID-19 pandemic. The contribution by international students not just on the educational but also cultural sphere strengthens students’ connectivity with the rest of the world and refines their global competency. From the economic standpoint, international students held over 300,000 jobs and contributed over $28 billion to the United States’ economy in the 2020-2021 academic year according to the Association of International Educators (NAFSA). Therefore, it is in the United States’ best interest to continue bolstering international students’ network of resources from whichever angle you look at it. The question is whether they actually make immigration a feasible procedure.

As an international student myself, I have always been concerned with how this country accommodates our needs. Aspects expand beyond academic support such as English language programs or advising support and also involve financial, immigration support, professional development, cultural events and counseling to overcome family separation and homesickness. While an institution’s ability to build a safe and welcoming environment for international students is mostly a university-based process, the issue of immigration lies within the United States government, which can impact students’ ability to enter these institutions.

Following the 1993 World Trade Center Bombing, the investigation found that one of the attackers was under an expired U.S. visa. This prompted the development of a detailed system to obtain and track international student information. The issue further intensified after 9/11, where one of the terrorists had a student visa and two more had applied for a change of status. This expanded tracking systems, binding universities to release student information as per request of the government. It was more often that consulates would deviate from the Foreign Affairs Manual and deny student visas. Terrorism and anti-immigrant sentiment were at the core of these decisions.

In 2017, President Trump exerted stricter control on immigration, talking about building a wall, restricting Visa approvals on Muslim applicants, separating families in the Mexico-U.S. border, pushing to end Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and increasing deportation efforts. Immigration has increasingly become polarized thanks to past administrations and their rhetoric on different immigrant groups. This has, as a consequence, affected international student immigration.

To address some of these concerns, the State Department addressed the issue of student visas in late 2021. He communicated to American consular offices to provide different grounds of evaluation for student-type visas. Visa applicants can get denied for reasons, such as not having the funds to sustain their stay in the U.S. without needing a job. In more recent years, consulates have determined “immigrant intent” or the applicant’s desire to stay in the United States permanently, as the main reason for denying a visa. The State Department upheld the language within the Foreign Affairs Manual by highlighting clear-cut differences between student-type visas and other visas available to young individuals. It’s important to understand that student applicants are not required to have a great economic standing, and they should not be judged based on the potential of a permanent stay in the future, but rather on their present intent to be a student. I believe this is a step in the right direction. It’s rather ludicrous that students who put effort into college applications are restricted primarily by immigration policy. If consulates fully adopt the State Department’s guidance, this can (to a great degree) eliminate the initial hurdle for international students to make it into the American education system.

However, past circumstances have shown that students already admitted into the United States are still in a vulnerable spot. In July 2020, at the center of the COVID-19 pandemic, President Trump asserted his support for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)’s restriction that international students must return to their respective countries in the wake of online learning. This essentially would have forced international students to self-deport. While this decision did not see the light of day for current students, it required freshmen to take at least one in-person class. This restriction created pressure for international students to break the COVID-19 protocol in institutions that were primarily online in 2020, entering 2021. Trump’s concept of returning to normalcy was at the expense of international students, who were held to a different standard. From the very onset of this proposal, I was very angered by the disparaging language against international students. It made me think of how students who live in a different time zone would have to adjust to their university time zone and operate as full-time students but not be remotely close to the university. There was a serious lack of consideration to these students.

Most of the effort to propel international student success comes at the university level, such as providing programs for adapting to a new cultural and educational environment, but when it comes to immigration procedure itself, the United States does not seem as welcoming.

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Camila was born in Caracas, Venezuela. She was raised between Caracas, Bogota (Colombia), and Fort Lauderdale (Florida). She is currently a sophomore majoring in Political Science.
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