On January 27, 2017, President Donald Trump signed Executive Order 13769 titled “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States,” barring entry to immigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries for 90 days, and to refugees for 120 days. This executive order included a provision to revoke valid visa holders from Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. In doing so, hundreds of visa holders were denied entry or detained at airports across the United States. Further, thousands of visa holders within the United States would be prevented from traveling outside or returning to the country for at least 90 days. The Washington Post reported that, contrary to accounts from the new administration, upwards of 90,000 individuals could be affected by the ban. Campuses and airports across the nation erupted in activism and institutional and association leadership – including NASPA - signed onto of statements of solidarity against the newly dubbed “travel ban.” In addition, dozens of articles discussed the potential economic and creative losses of barring thousands of scholars from American soil.
President Trump asserted national security as the justification for the travel ban, but many questioned the order’s ability to thwart terrorism. Further, none of the major, deadly terrorist attacks in the US since 9/11 were carried out by people from the seven countries included in the order.
Response to the executive order
On Friday February 3, continued efforts of resistance, specifically a court case challenging the order filed by the state of Washington and joined by Minnesota, resulted in a historical ruling by US District Judge James Robart, temporarily blocking the order from taking effect. Since the ruling, the State Department has, at least temporarily, reinstated visa validity, and restored re-entry for international students studying abroad or visiting family back home. The ruling was immediately appealed by the Justice Department and, on February 7, the future of the suspended order was considered by the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco. The oral arguments questioned the limitations of presidential power, including a state’s right to “second guess” an executive decision, as well as the lack of rights granted to “noncitizens” of the state. The appeals court ruled unanimously on February 9 to uphold the temporary restraining order; the Trump Administration is expected to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court.
Other potential visa policies
Regardless of whether or not the order is reinstated, international students may face other potential limitations on their ability to travel abroad, or even study within the US, under the Trump Administration. Leading up to and directly following the election, several sources speculated potential impacts on international students based on President Trump’s platforms on terrorism and immigration reform. For instance, during his campaign, Trump proposed replacing the summer cultural exchange J-1 visa program with programs for low-income youth. If replaced, international students would face potential issues with finding summer internships and work. In December 2016, the 12-month version of the J-1 visa was renewed, but the future of the program remains uncertain.
The new administration aims to create more jobs for Americans and has indicated they may do so by restricting current visa programs regarding STEM professionals. Some of these changes may also affect international students. A recent draft of a potentially forthcoming executive order has surfaced regarding H1B professional visas and includes language that may also restructure the OPT visa, which international students use to continue working in the United States post-graduation.
Further, international and domestic students alike may feel deterred from studying abroad during such uncertain times. NAFSA: Association of International Educators survey results reveal that while students are more likely than ever before to study abroad, as of October of 2016, over 40,000 prospective international students self-reported they were 60% less likely to enroll in a US based institution if Trump became president. This brings a forward new challenges for student affairs professionals.
Tell us what’s happening on your campus!
As the court case continues to unfold and new executive orders and legislation are announced, we at RPI are interested in hearing from you about what’s happening on your campus. Does your institution anticipate changes to your study abroad and exchange programs as a result of recent and impending policies of the new administration? Is your institution attempting to adjust for potential shifts in demographics of international students? How is your institution bracing for this impact? Feel free to comment below or reach out to Director of Policy Research & Advocacy, Teri Hinds, with your thoughts!
This post was updated on 2/10/2017 to add the ruling of the appeals court.