International students at US universities expressed relief after the Trump administration overturned a rule that would have required them to relocate or leave the country if their schools held classes entirely online due to COVID-1
Leon Lewis-Nicol can still hear the shots. If he closes his eyes, he can imagine buildings on fire.
As a child in Freetown, Sierra Leone, a West African nation ravaged by civil war, Lewis-Nicol often envisioned a better and safer life. His family fled the fighting, then returned to Sierra Leone, before finally moving to Ghana, some 900 miles away, when he was 15. But friends who traveled around the world spoke of an even safer place, with clean roads and limitless opportunities. : the United States.
Lewis-Nicol knew he had to go.
Now, the 24-year-old is here, studying for his master’s degree in jazz performance at Millikin University, a small private school in Decatur, Illinois. He has been in the United States for four years, to graduate in 2022. But he wonders if other West African natives like him will soon have the same chance.
This week, President Donald Trump’s administration unveiled proposed rule changes that would drastically alter student visas, leaving the international student community teetering just a few weeks into the 2020-21 academic year. The proposed changes – which are detailed in a 256-page online document and have already garnered hundreds of public comments – could wreak havoc on scientific research and technological innovation nationwide, experts warn.
“The overall tone of the proposed rules sends a chilling message to current and potential international students that we are no longer a welcoming nation,” said Stephen Yale-Loehr, a professor and attorney at Cornell Law School who specializes in immigration law. “He says we are more focused on national security threats and that we suspect they might come here to harm rather than help the United States.”
In other words: “It’s a terrible feeling,” Lewis-Nicol said. “The stigma is that if you are from Africa, you are not wanted and that your dreams are not that good.”
The proposal comes in the wake of the Trump administration’s introduction – and thus abandonment – of a controversial rule that prevents international students from living in the United States while taking fall online classes due to the pandemic. The administration canceled the policy after a series of lawsuits.
According to the Yale-Loehr analysis, the latest proposed changes would be, among other things:
- Require most international students to finish their studies in four years, although, according to the National Student Clearinghouse, most first-time undergraduates take more than five years to earn a degree, and many doctoral programs also require more than four years;
- Limit the stays for some international students to just two years;
- Require many international students to apply for extensions of their visas with no guarantee of receiving them, especially if the immigration agency determines that the student is not making sufficient progress towards graduation.
Students born in some countries – especially African nations, as well as Middle Eastern countries like Afghanistan, Iran, and Iraq – would be limited to two-year visas, which means no four-year degrees.
Stay in America or go home? The coronavirus pandemic brings stress, fear for international students.
In Millikin, Illinois, about 50% of the international student population comes from countries whose citizens would be restricted by the rules, such as Rwanda, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Cameroon and Nepal, among others.
The college’s Center for International Education “almost constantly sends things out trying to calm the fears of our international students,” said director Briana Quintenz.
“It’s so unfair to them that they can’t just enjoy their college experience,” Quintenz said. “They have to continually analyze these very confusing rules that seem to come out all the time. … My biggest concern is that the already very strict restrictions will become even more complicated and international students will stop trying to come to the US “
Yale-Loehr said the proposed changes aren’t necessarily a surprise.
“This is part of a broader anti-immigration trend coming from this administration,” Yale-Loehr said.
President Donald Trump speaks during a briefing at the White House, Thursday, July 2, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo / Evan Vucci) (Photo: Evan Vucci, AP)
If the rule is passed, it would be the biggest change to international student regulation in nearly 20 years.
Trump admin. remove the visa rule against online only classes: But some new international students were still excluded from the United States
After 9/11, the Department of Homeland Security launched a new program that requires colleges to monitor international students to make sure they are studying here and not for alternative purposes. Schools detect if international students do not take a full course or suddenly drop out.
The system is “cumbersome,” Yale-Loehr said, but it works: universities are able to see which students are falling through the cracks. The proposed rule changes mean that the existing system needs to be revamped, he said, “when the colleges would tell you it works well.”
But the Trump administration has said the rule will tighten the system to make sure only legitimate US-friendly students come to the country’s universities.
“The modification of the relevant regulations is essential to improve the control mechanisms of the program; prevent foreign adversaries from exploiting the country’s educational environment; and properly enforce and enforce US immigration laws, ”said Ken Cuccinelli, a senior immigration officer at the Department of Homeland Security.
Foreign students could apply to extend their stay or re-apply for admission in the country, Cuccinelli said.
The economic impact would be “harmful”
International students make up about 5% of American university and college students, and their economic impact alone is staggering. According to NAFSA, the Association of International Educators, 1 million international students contributed $ 41 billion to the US economy in the 2018-19 academic year.
COVID-19, seen, Trump: International students who stray from US colleges for many reasons
Most international students pay full, out-of-state tuition fees, a boon to universities and one that allows them to keep costs lower for domestic students. And the money they spend on rent and local restaurants is especially important in Midwestern college towns that have been hit hard by recessions, said Gaurav Khanna, an economist at the University of California, San Diego. Then there are the academic concerns.
“This wouldn’t just affect the university sector,” Khanna said. “While the international students are here, they do critical research, but then, after graduation, many of them join the science and technology sector, where a lot of innovation happens.”
But international students say their contributions go beyond economics.
Dev Purandare is a PhD student in computer science at the University of California, Santa Cruz who came to the United States from India four years ago. Like most international students, he grew up believing that America’s higher education system was second to none.
“For education, you can’t do better,” Purandare said. “We can come here and get degrees, participate in research. But we also contribute. Throughout my career I have been teaching assistant, have taught courses and right now I am mentoring undergraduate and graduate students. And many of them are from California. ”
The uncertain future shook Purandare and other students.
“It is disheartening for international students to have to face a new crisis every month and ask themselves if we will be able to continue what we are doing,” he said. “Lack of stability is really bad for productivity. I can’t make any kind of life plans. I can’t even get a cat, because what if I have to leave the next day or next week? “
Purandare is in the middle of his doctoral program and his visa will be renewed for the next year. He is concerned about how this process might unfold. But even though he’s fine, he said he’ll likely accept a postdoc position outside of the United States, where he feels most welcome.
Lewis-Nicol, the Sierra Leone graduate student, agrees.
Lewis-Nicol dreams of becoming such an accomplished musician, he can travel the world and win Grammys. But above all he wants to go back to Africa, build music schools and help his people. He thought the United States would be the best place to go to help make his dreams come true, but now he wonders if he needs to look elsewhere. Perhaps another country will not define it only by the place of birth.
“That’s why we’re leaving our countries, because we don’t want to be put in a box. We want opportunities,” he said. “If America doesn’t want me, maybe I’ll go to Canada or somewhere else.”
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