President Donald Trump’s restrictionist immigration policies could close the door on the best and brightest international students who want to study in the United States.
International students may soon have to annually apply for permission to study in the country thanks to a preliminary proposal by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the Washington Post reported.
The proposal — which would require regulatory changes and approval from the U.S. Department of State — would take at least 18 months to implement, according to Post reporters Maria Sachetti and Devlin Barrett.
The proposed changes are necessary, officials say, because given national security concerns the government needs to more closely monitor foreign students. DHS spokesperson David Lapan told the publication the agency wants to ensure that programs for international students “operate in a manner that promotes the national interest, enhances national security and public safety and ensures the integrity of our immigration system.”
DHS officials are worried current student visa guidelines are too “open-ended,” the Washintgon Post reported, allowing people to transfer between various institutions without having to readjust their immigration status. If enacted, the proposal could create end dates so students would have to reapply for visas if they move between programs or between degree levels. About 2.8 percent of the 1.4 million student and exchange visa holders overstayed their visas last year, according to a DHS report.
Most international students come to the United States from places like China, India, South Korea, and Saudi Arabia. Students who come here to complete their studies are most likely to pursue degrees related to science and technology.
The proposal could upend the higher education admissions process, given that foreign students may be dissuaded by the paperwork and the additional costs. For one thing, if they have to reapply every year, they may be required to annually pay a $200 program fee required by the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency — currently a one-time fee.
There is also a serious financial incentive for colleges and universities to welcome international students. These students — sometimes derisively referred to as “cash cows” because they typically pay full tuition and are rarely able to take advantage of loans and scholarships offered by U.S. schools — provide a solid revenue stream that helps ensure the financial stability of higher-education institutions.
Turning higher education into an onerous process marked by suspicion and scrutiny by government officials could keep international students from wanting to come to the United States at all — a growing issue thanks to the Republican administration’s stringent immigration policies.
After Trump signed executive orders restricting travel from about a half dozen Muslim-majority countries, for instance, many foreign graduate students and postdocs considered taking their education and future careers to other countries.
“I’m questioning staying in America, and I have already started looking through documents for Canada,” Saghi Saghazadeh, an Iranian postdoc at Harvard Medical School, told the trade magazine Chemical & Engineering News in March. (Iran is on the list of countries facing restrictions under Trump’s travel ban, which would bar entry to foreign visitors like people attending conferences.) “I will go to a country where I have to worry less about my life.”
It’s undeniable that the United States relies on brilliant immigrant students and foreigners to help shape its competitive edge. In fact, all the American recipients of the 2016 Nobel Prizes in Chemistry and Physics were immigrants. It’s true that there are enough students from American colleges who could fill the available tech jobs. It’s also partially true that technology companies in places like Silicon Valley are hiring foreign workers because they’re cheaper. But major tech companies hire immigrants because they bring a different perspective that re-imagines what applicants can do. “It’s not about adding tens or hundreds of thousands of people into manufacturing plants,” Aaron Levie, the co-founder and chief executive of the cloud-storage company Box, told the New York Times in February. “It’s about the couple ideas that are going to be invented that are going to change everything.”
Esther Yu Hsi Lee is an Immigration Reporter at ThinkProgress.org.