There are no two ways about it — international students are increasingly shunning US universities. The country’s fall from grace in the international education sphere is due to a cacophony of factors over recent years: pandemic-related travel restrictions, the Trump administration’s unfriendly immigration policies, tightening of post-study work visa rules, and more making up a steady stream of unwelcome US student visa news. Since taking over as the POTUS, Donald Trump has introduced a number of policies that make it harder for international students to obtain student visas, including a new rule that would limit the length of stay of international students in the US.
Under the proposal, student visas would not exceed four years, deviating from its current practice of allowing them to remain valid as long as students are still in school. This could affect students in programmes that last over four years or those who need more time to complete their degrees. Previously, talks for a suspension of the Optional Practical Training (OPT) programme as a result of tightened immigration laws loomed over international students in the US, discouraging more from applying to its universities and disrupting plans of many current students vying for valuable work experience in the country.
This could all change if Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden wins the US 2020 election.
Support for students from majority-Muslim countries to study in the US
Across the world, people come to this country with unrelenting optimism and determination toward the future. They study here, innovate here, they make America who we are. Donald Trump doesn’t get that — we need a president who does. https://t.co/0VK0MCXMVq
— Joe Biden (@JoeBiden) July 7, 2020
Biden could revoke several executive orders that negatively affect international students if he becomes president.
He has pledged to reverse Trump’s ban on travelers from certain majority-Muslim countries entering the US. His campaign page reads, “Prohibiting Muslims from entering the country is morally wrong, and there is no intelligence or evidence that suggests it makes our nation more secure. It is yet another abuse of power by the Trump Administration designed to target primarily black and brown immigrants. Biden will immediately rescind the ‘Muslim bans.’”
Support migrant students’ access to higher education
Biden also aims to reinstate the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) programme, which the Obama Administration created in 2012 to protect undocumented immigrants who were brought to the US as children.
According to Education Dive, the DACA was scaled back under the Trump administration, but Biden aims to reinstate the programme and ensure this group of students is eligible for federal loans and Pell grants, in addition to being included in his proposals to provide access to community college without debt.
According to a report on this from the Presidents’ Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration, there are over 450,000 undocumented students enrolled in postsecondary education, representing 2% of all postsecondary students. “Of these students, 216,000 are DACA-eligible (they either hold DACA or would have been eligible for DACA),” said the report.
A possible US student visa news in 2021? Revoking regulations limiting how long international students can stay in the US
A proposal under the Trump administration includes a new rule that would limit the length of stay of international students in the US. Depending on the nationality of students, their visas could expire after four or two years of being issued.
Stephen Yale-Loehr, a professor of immigration law practice at Cornell University, told Education Dive that Biden could revoke these regulations. However, if they are finalised before Trump leaves office, a new administration would have to go through the lengthy regulatory process again, he said. The rules could also be undone through the Congressional Review Act, which gives lawmakers the ability to override finalised regulations within 60 days Congress is in session.
Bolster COVID-19 emergency support for international students in the US
International students in the US currently do not qualify for COVID-19 relief funding. In March, Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, setting aside more than US$6 billion for student emergency grants. The Education Department blocked students not eligible for federal financial aid from receiving that funding, issuing an emergency rule and drawing several legal challenges.
Biden could reverse this restriction too, according to Yale Loehr, adding that large-scale immigration changes might need to wait as a new administration addressed more immediate issues like COVID-19 and the fragile economy.