Higher Ed’s Warning: Travel Ban Undermines U.S. Tech Training & Hiring

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provost of MSU’s office of international programs.

“They ask questions like, “Is the U.S. still a safe country?’ “ Di Maria says.

India, which has one of the largest Muslim populations in the world, trails only China among the nations sending the greatest number of international students to the United States. India sent 165,918 students in the 2015-2016 academic year, up 24.9 percent. China sent 328,547, up 8.1 percent.

“The past two years has seen double-digit growth for (students from) India,” Di Maria says. “I don’t know if we’ll see that again, given the inquiries.”

Students and their parents are not only concerned that the administration may add more countries to the restricted list, Di Maria says. In the current climate of anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim political rhetoric, they’re also worried about the treatment of Muslim students, whether they’re citizens of Libya, France, or the United States itself.

Martyn Miller, an official with Temple University’s Office of International Affairs, says students are hearing unfounded reports that, for example, U.S. consular officials have stopped granting visas in Kenya, which shares a border with Somalia, one of the seven nations named in the travel ban. Kenya sent more than 3,000 students to the United States in 2015-2016. The rumors also extend to South American countries. “Colombia has come up,” Miller says. “Venezuela has come up.”

The fear and confusion about U.S. immigration policy could extend to Muslim students living in Europe, if their own country of origin, or their parents’, brings them under heightened scrutiny as potential terrorist threats. It’s also conceivable that some non-Muslim students may bypass U.S. schools to express disapproval of the administration’s immigration stance, Miller says.

The uncertainty over U.S. policy comes just as prospective graduate students are facing decision dates—-pondering whether to come to the United States in the fall or go instead to nations such as Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand. These countries are high on the list of options for international applicants seeking a leg up for skilled positions in the global economy.

The confusion over ground rules for entry into the United States may persist past the May 1 decision date when many undergraduate applicants must decide which college offer to accept. The outlook for current and prospective foreign students could continue to change every day, for weeks or possibly for months, as federal courts at various levels weigh claims that Trump’s executive order violates principles of the U.S. Constitution, federal laws, and American values.

Outcome of court battle may not end the uncertainty 

Although a federal judge in Washington State put Trump’s executive order on hold nationwide on Friday, the administration is mounting an appeal that could eventually reach the U.S. Supreme Court. The high court might be called on to reconcile conflicting lower court decisions on the issue from the different federal jurisdictions where judges have already weighed in. And new lawsuits continue to be filed.

Even if federal courts rule that parts of the Trump executive order are constitutionally barred, other provisions could survive judicial scrutiny and go into effect. And after the current court battle is settled, Trump could conceivably issue new restrictions, and these may or may not be challenged in court.

A foreign student who manages to get here on a student visa might risk getting stranded on a visit home if U.S. travel policies change unexpectedly again.

Seventeen-year-olds deciding where to spend their freshman year may fear they wouldn’t be able to go home for four years—-and that their families couldn’t come over to visit them, Di Maria says.

Universities are watching out for other changes in immigration policy that could hamper their ability to recruit international students. For example, foreigners who enter the United States on a student visa can now stay for a year after graduation to work, under a program called OPT, or optional practical training. Students have been asking Di Maria whether that option will go away.

If the federal government further restricts H1-B visas—and late last month Bloomberg News reported that an executive order targeting that program is in the works—international students who had hoped for a significant career stint in the United States after graduation might stay home, or look to a more welcoming country such as Canada, Di Maria says.

That may be starting to happen. Di Maria says a Toronto colleague told him that foreign student interest is spiking there.

“They’re seeing an increase in applications like they’ve never seen before,” he says.

Meanwhile, higher education advocacy groups and schools themselves are gearing up a campaign to inform government agencies and the public about the value of international students to American security interests and the U.S. economy.

“International students come here with two suitcases,” Di Maria says. They buy everything else, from housing to … Next Page »

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