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An International Reversal and a Far-Reaching Impact

Student Success Career and Workforce Development Policy and Advocacy Supporting the Profession Public Policy Division
July 31, 2020 Denny Bubrig University of Southern Mississippi

As we inch closer and closer to the beginnings of fall and campuses reopening, many, many questions are still looming for student affairs professionals. One question that has been possibly resolved is an  abrupt reversal of the Trump Administration’s stance on international students and their ability to continue to receive  education in the United States in the event their institution goes to an online-only format for the fall. Let’s take a look at some of the basic elements to get a deeper understanding of this topic.

First,  let’s start with a basic knowledge of the student visa (F or M) process.  The visa process can be extensive with multiple phases that include, but are not limited to; three individual forms, additional requirements for spouses and children,  and substantive corresponding fees. Depending on age and application, an interview may also be required. With these multiple pieces at play, the visa application process may take several months, at a minimum, to even get started. Most student education visas are set to expire once students are no longer actively pursuing their academic programs.

On July 6 the current administration issued guidelines through the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) that international students would be banned from taking a fully online schedule for the semester. This would have jeopardized the nonimmigrant visa status of over one million international students in the United States. These guidelines could have had significant negative impacts on multiple fronts, upending a great deal of fall planning--both typical and Coronavirus related--not to mention disrupting the economic impact of international students on the U.S. economy (viz., over $45 billion in 2018). Over twenty court challenges led by eighteen states, Harvard, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology likely played a significant role in this reversal.

Immediate ramifications such as student economic impact, as discussed previously, and international student retention have likely been averted. However, the intrinsic aspects resulting from the administration’s initial stance remain unclear and are still likely to be determined. These include but are not limited to:

Continued international student recruitment

At this point, research shows that international student recruitment is down across the national higher education spectrum. Given our reality, what is the long-term impact of the overall current governmental perspective on international engagement? With the likelihood that the enrollment of international students will continue on a downward trend, institutions may face negative impacts related to the economics of research, student recruitment, and their global image.

Preparing your students for a global community

How will we continue to prepare students to be global citizens when we can’t expose them to a global culture? The ramifications for direct student engagement on our campuses, for study abroad programs, and the like are also unclear. If the United States is viewed in an increasingly negative light, will we be permitted to host these programs?  How will this impact your  institutional global image if that is a part of your institutional scope and mission?

Guaranteed resources

Similar to economics, as a part of the admissions process, international students typically must demonstrate resources to be able to fund the entire length of their program of study. How might you  effectively budget for these uncertainties? What are the ripple effects throughout your institution if this revenue stream is disrupted? 

Supporting students who may be overseas, with no visa  but fully enrolled

How do you support  an international student who is overseas, fully enrolled and online for your institution, but who doesn’t have clearance (visa  or appropriate travel permissions) to return to the U.S. for their program of study? What are the hurdles? What are the benefits?

 NASPA’s standing position statement on “Priorities for International Students” may offer a starting place to gain talking points for advocacy around this issue. As indicated in NASPA’s initial statement on the issue from July 9, NASPA and the International Education Knowledge Community encourage campuses to reach out to their international students, faculty, and staff to assess their needs and offer resources at this time.

This illustration hopefully outlines the value for student affairs professionals to  engage in public policy discussions. As public policy decision makers engage in these dialogues they may  miss the lateral impact of these topical decisions and the outcomes. Student affairs professionals must  fully educate and support our governmental affairs colleagues or even our public policy decision makers regarding the longevity and variety of outcomes in their decisions. 

Post Script; As this blog post was being edited, the administration issued new guidance that no “new” student visas would be granted for digital only classes. This will further enhance and steer campus discussion to the questions of how to best support international students and how institutions will seek to maintain their presence globally.