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International students try to maintain optimism amid uncertainty about Biden administration

Students share reactions to 2020 election, mixed projections for Biden’s future immigration and COVID-19 policies

Senior Staff Writer
Sunday, November 22, 2020
A map showing connections between continents and the Brown logo

When Cecilia Martin ’23 first moved to the United States, her mother gave her a pep talk she never thought she’d need to hear: “If anything goes wrong, pick up your brother, go to the Swiss Embassy and take shelter.”

 But since the morning of Nov. 7, Martin has become less worried about her mother’s early concerns becoming a reality. She isn’t the only one whose mind has been put at relative ease — when former Vice President Joe Biden was elected the 46th President of the United States, international students who spoke to The Herald said they heaved a sigh of relief. 

For students like Suyash Kothari ’23, Biden’s victory restores a degree of faith in the United States that was lost under President Donald Trump’s immigration policies. “As an international student, I’ve been disillusioned with the whole idea of the U.S. being a place that grants new opportunities,” Kothari said.

Restrictions on H-1B visa policies and threats to remote students’ visas during a pandemic are just two ways the Trump administration has made international students feel “unwanted,” Kothari said. “Given (Vice President-elect Kamala) Harris’ background, I’m hopeful that the Biden-Harris administration will overturn Trump’s regressive immigration policies,” he said.  

But “the U.S. has a lot more on (its) plate to care about than international students,” Joon Nam ’23 said. Therefore, it would be “a long shot” to expect Biden to make major changes to current immigration policies, Nam said.

Though students who spoke to The Herald initially felt following Biden’s victory, the circumstances surrounding his victory led some to still feel uneasy.  

Martin said she was shocked that Biden’s election wasn’t a landslide and has felt frustrated by Trump’s false mass election fraud claims 

“I’m used to a democracy that empowers me to bring about changes in my own country, to be an agent of change just for being a resident,” Martin said, reflecting on her experience voting in Switzerland. “Here, you do have an election, and yet, it’s not respected? Isn’t this a coup?”

Kothari warned that Trump’s claims could have dangerous implications beyond the United States. “It legitimizes and even emboldens authoritarian regimes around the world to disregard the electorate more than they already do,” he said. 

Beyond the results of the election, some international students said they are also interested in seeing how Biden’s administration addresses the pandemic. With the University planning to reopen for all undergraduate students in the coming spring, many international students — especially those currently learning remotely — are hopeful the COVID-19 situation in the United States improves by the time they arrive on campus.

Advay Mansingka ’23 believes Biden’s coronavirus task force of health experts and scientists is a strong start. “Having a government that follows science makes a big difference,” Masingka said. “He also wears a mask, which already puts out a better message.” 

But Nam noted that spring semester begins just as Biden takes office, making it difficult to expect significant improvements to take place beforehand. 

Looking to the next four years, Kothari speculated that Biden’s presidency alone cannot bring about the changes the country needs. “His administration’s ability to tackle the larger structural issues that face the U.S. hinges on whether Democrats take control of the Senate, which boils down to Georgia’s senate runoffs,” Kothari said.

Others international students warned against idealizing a future under Biden’s presidency. Citing Biden’s “hawkish foreign policy, history of fueling mass incarceration and unclear intentions” on matters such as gun control and fracking, Nader Maarouf ’23 urged people to “celebrate Trump’s loss, but not celebrate Biden’s victory.”

Martin said that Biden’s capacity to actualize changes depends on how Americans hold him accountable for his decisions.  

Still, most international students are optimistic Biden’s presidency will give space to heal the divide that formed under the Trump administration. “We’re living in a more hopeful time,” Mansingka said. “I hope people can be more united after four years of polarization.”

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  1. While lobbying Congress for more H-1B visas, industry claims H-1B workers are “the best and the brightest” and “innovators”. Come payday, however, they’re entry-level workers.

    The wage rules for H-1B and green card sponsorship are broken down into wage Levels I, II, III and IV, with Level III being the median. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) put out a report on the H-1B visa that discusses at some length the fact that the vast majority of H-1B workers are hired at the entry-level wage level. In fact, most are at “Level I”, which is officially defined by the Dept. of Labor as those who have a “basic understanding of duties and perform routine tasks requiring limited judgment”. Moreover, the GAO found that a mere 6% of H-1B workers are at “Level IV”, which is officially defined by the Dept. of Labor as those who are “fully competent”.[1]

    This belies the industry lobbyists’ claims that H-1B workers are hired because they’re experts that can’t be found among the U.S. workforce.

    The H-1B visa has been seriously abused.

    [1] GAO (2011). H-1B VISA PROGRAM Reforms Are Needed to Minimize the Risks and Costs of Current Program, GAO-11-26, January 2011.

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