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The past four years have been extremely challenging for international students in the US. They have faced upsetting changes in visa policies, stay-back options, travel bans, and several other detrimental regulatory orders sent out by the Trump Administration. However, with Joe Biden all set to become the next US President, these 2020 elections have clearly brought in a wave of relief for both international educators and students in the US. The Biden-Harris Administration, with the Biden education plan, will directly address many of these issues in January. It will certainly favor a better climate for international education in America.
Trump’s immigration policies
Ever since 2016, the Trump Administration’s immigration policies seemed wary of international students and immigrants. This has led to a significant decrease in international applicants and enrollments for 3 consecutive years. These policies made international students feel more and more unwelcome in the USA, despite the best efforts put forth by the US universities.
While a lot of these policies revolve around the visa application process, others press upon tuition, funding, securing jobs, etc.
Let’s take a look at the most controversial policies Trump brought in-
- An executive order banning foreign nationals from seven predominantly Muslim countries from entering the US
- A memorandum limiting the stay of international students with F and J visas to 2/4 years, depending on nationality
- An increase in the fee charged to international students, exchange students, and others
- A rule requiring international students to seek approval for each stage of their stay while studying
- An executive order banning Chinese graduate students on an F or J visa and Chinese researchers from entering the US
- A modification compelling international students enrolled in online-only courses at US universities to be on-campus during the pandemic or risk deportation
- A rule narrowing the eligibility criteria for H1B visas, which also increases the wages employers would have to pay them
- Another regulatory change eliminating the H1B visa lottery, which is currently in the proposed rule stage
Naturally, students decided to consider other countries for overseas education, like Canada, Australia, UK, New Zealand, and Singapore.
Now that Joe Biden has been elected president, international educators and students are anticipating his support towards migrants’ higher education.
Why everyone is expecting a change in education policies
With Biden being elected President, the education sector is anticipating relaxed immigration policies and better support for international collaboration.
Kamala Harris, the Vice-President-elect, who is the first woman of South Asian descent and the first daughter of immigrants to be ever elected to the national office, stands by Biden’s side. They plan to work towards making dreams a reality for everyone, regardless of their faith, ethnicity, identity, disability, or race.
Moreover, during his Victory Speech, Biden stated that the day had been a great day for US educators. Because one of America’s educators, Jill Biden, will be present in the White House with him.
With such strengthening support by his side, Biden is likely to focus on immigration before other policies in higher education. And he is planning to rescind several Trump-era immigration actions that are unpopular in the education community.
What the Biden education plan will address
Biden has said he will “Secure America’s values as a Nation of Immigrants” when he takes the office. But the changes Trump has made will take quite a few efforts to pause and revoke. Nonetheless, there are a few things his administration is planning to look into.
- To start with, Biden has pledged to reverse Trump’s ban on immigrants entering the US from certain majority-Muslim countries
- He has called for an increased number of visas for permanent, employment-based immigration
- He has also talked about exempting foreign graduates of US Ph.D. programs in STEM fields from any visa caps, believing that they should be given a green card with their degree
- Biden could also revoke the regulations that are imposing fixed-term limits on F and J visas, which are currently causing a lot of stress amongst international students who want to study and stay back for a while in the US post their graduation
- Currently, international students in the US do not qualify for COVID-19 relief funding, which is another large-scale restriction that Biden might revoke at a later stage
- Most importantly, both international educators and students will be looking at Biden to make sure that the OPT and H1B programs – which allow skilled students to stay back, intern, or seek employment in the US – will not be subjected to more restrictive policies or entirely terminated
Educators are speculating that President-elect Joe Biden can and will reverse all of these changes.
However, after four years of facing unparalleled challenges for studying in the US, international students might feel wary. They might be unwelcome in the US after Joe’s Presidency ends.
And what makes it harder for the US, is that several other countries have already created better pathways for students to stay, work, and possibly obtain permanent residency post their graduation.
Not all educators are familiar with Biden’s exact plans for international education. But even though he hasn’t spoken much in this matter, people know what he stands for – a more favorable climate for international education and engagement with the world. This has brought relief to international students across the US.
However, owing to the coronavirus pandemic and the effect of Trump’s policies on international education, most people have chosen to be cautiously optimistic.
It might take some time and effort to pause and revoke Trump’s executive orders. But, in the end, people are expecting Biden to work on an immigration reform that will recognize the contributions made by international scholars, alumni, and students. He would offer equitable access to educational opportunities and help US educators attract and retain international students and scholars.