On Inauguration Day, I unplugged my television, turned off the radio and avoided all of my social media accounts. Like many of my peers, I did everything I possibly could to distance myself from the reality of a Trump presidency. But that evening, when I tried to explain this to friends, all I received were blank stares.
“Why are you so worried about President Trump?” I was asked time and time again. “You’re an international student; you can always just return to your home country once you graduate.”
In some ways, I can understand why people would come to this conclusion. Many international students are not directly affected by the disastrous prospect of an Obamacare repeal, the institution of a regressive taxing system or the defunding of public schools across the country. At first glance, it might seem like we can sidestep many of Trump’s most absurd policy proposals. But this reasoning obscures the myriad ways in which Trump’s platform specifically undermines the status of international students and casts our futures into uncertainty.
Over a million international students currently reside in the United States, most of whom are on F-1 visas. Other students (primarily at the graduate level) and scholars come into the country on the J-1 visa program. Trump has already made a series of bold statements proposing to place restrictions on the F-1 program and eliminate J-1 visas altogether. His team has since removed these plans from his official website, but the trend is nevertheless concerning for international students and prospective applicants alike. Given Trump’s recklessness and tendency to tilt at windmills, we can never be sure when our legality in this country will be called into question.
Then there’s the issue of employment visas for summer internships and jobs after graduation. To legally reside in the country for paid summer internships, international students have to enroll in either the Optional Practical Training program or the Curricular Practical Training program. The eligibility requirements for these programs could become much more rigorous under the new administration, disadvantaging international students who face particular difficulties finding internships in the first place .
This problem will likely be compounded for full-time employment visas. The H1-B visa process is notorious for its lack of transparency and clarity, but recent debates in Congress suggest that it is likely to get a lot worse. Republican lawmakers have already introduced a bill in Congress that tightens requirements for H1-B visas. With the potential for even more restrictions and limits under Trump’s “buy American, hire American” policies, many companies may decide against hiring international students because of the added hassle and uncertainty.
Admittedly, most international students have the option to return to their home countries for employment, and many will undoubtedly do so. But the majority of Brown students find jobs through resources like BrownConnect, CareeerLab alerts, alumni networks and campus recruitment — resources that primarily offer opportunities based in the United States. As the process currently stands, restrictions to the H1-B process will stand in the way of many international students’ best shot at employment.
And these policy changes do not even account for the elephant in the room. We must not forget that the new president has based his campaign on unabashed xenophobia and bigotry. The Southern Poverty Law Center recorded a rising number of hate crimes against minorities and foreign citizens on the streets and in colleges. Of course, the growth of intolerance affects many other demographics — minorities, women and members of the LGBTQ community, to name a few. But international students are also vulnerable to Trump’s anti-immigration policies and the waves of hate that come with them.
It should come as no surprise that analysts are already predicting a record drop in international applicants and enrollees under Trump. Yet, despite the baseless rhetoric portraying international students as poachers of American jobs, they are valuable assets to the education system and country. They bring in an estimated $32 billion a year, add to the skilled labor force and offer important and diverse perspectives on college campuses.
Since we can no longer count on the government, it’s up to colleges like Brown to make international students feel safe and supported on campuses. Brown has already made a start: In the days following the election, the Office of Global Engagement and the Office of International Student and Scholar Services hosted an international community gathering and sent out a series of email updates and resources. They also organized an information session with an immigration attorney to discuss how the election might affect immigration law. I hope the University maintains these activities and keeps a close eye on new policies that could affect international students. A simple first step could be to expand advising for jobs and graduate school programs abroad. Even a small-scale change like hosting more visa information sessions could make a world of difference in this climate of uncertainty.
After all, we’ll all be irrevocably affected by a Trump presidency. Even those of us who are not American.