Roar writer Hanna Pham on the effects of new ICE policies targeting international students in the United States.
Per new ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) policies, international students studying in the United States have been left in an impossible position. The F-1 visa which allows them to study in the US has been voided, and in its place is this mandate: “students attending schools operating entirely online may not take a full online course load and remain in the United States.” Don’t want to be forcefully deported? Then you can transfer to a school that provides in-person teaching, suggests ICE, despite the fact that applications to transfer schools take place in March and April. If your school is hybrid, offering a mix of online and in-person classes, but ceases to be mid-year, you will also be deported. These confusing mandates speaks volumes to how much the Trump administration values the 1 million international students who contribute to the economy and a globalised workforce – not at all.
“We are political pawns in Trump’s administration. It’s a shocking, cruel political move,” Lara Van Vuuren, an international student majoring in vocal performance and psychology at Indiana University, told Roar. It is obvious these senseless measures are an extension of the anti-immigrant stance held by Trump, who has also made it more difficult to obtain green cards to legally work in the United States. Various universities, including Van Vuuren’s university, reject the politicisation of students as lawsuits against this declaration continue to grow in number.
As the Coronavirus exposed the immense flaws in the American justice system, healthcare, and democratic systems in general, the diversity and worldly culture of American universities remained one of the only institutions perceived abroad to be prestigious. By restricting international students and leaving universities to handle the Trump administration’s failure to control Covid-19, the US is treating the former as expendable political tools, when in reality they are an important source of revenue, funding universities and skilled workers who would provide a source of labour post-graduation in the multicultural society the US perceives itself to be.
Rhea Malhotra, an international student majoring in Psychology and Economics at Scripps University, puts the issue at hand concisely, telling Roar that “for a country that prides itself on its higher education, international students, who pay much more in regards to tuition, are less likely to get need-based scholarships, so they break their backs to earn merit-based, are less likely to get jobs and internships and cannot travel back home as often due to the cost, are being treated like disposable objects.”
Furthermore, these mandates would also only worsen the global pandemic by increasing travel to and from the United States. “We are being forced to choose between our education and our health”, states Malhotra. On the one hand, says Van Vuuren, being forced to take online classes abroad rather than in the United States would be a “detriment to our learning” due to various complications like time zones and access to the Internet, especially to those who are currently living in the US. On the other hand, forcing universities to have a few in-person classes compels international students who feel travel to the US is unsafe to return — only to be deported in the event that the school eventually transitions to being fully online. This is a cruel measure that unfairly puts their lives at risk.
As an American student studying in the UK, I am angry. I, similar to international students in the US, worked hard to be able to attend university overseas, and I cannot even fathom the panic that I would feel if I were put into this position. The Trump administration is treating these young people as if their lives are expendable and unimportant by hastily establishing policies that all essentially lead to deportation and the disruption of their education.
As I have stated before, international students in US universities bring innumerable benefits to the country, from being a source of revenue to serving as much-needed, skilled workers. However, commodifying these young people in order to justify their right to study in the United States distracts from the core problem in these new policies that both Malhotra and Van Vuuren have highlighted — foreigners are not welcome.