Donald Trump’s surprise victory in the US election of November 2016 sent shockwaves throughout the world, including the higher education community. But what could Trump’s presidency mean for you, either as a US or international student?
As Trump prepares to take office on 20 January, read on for an overview of the impact his administration might have on higher education…
Changes to visas?
High on the list of concerns for international students is the likelihood of changes to student visa policies by the Trump administration.
Donald Trump’s controversial proposals, such as a wall separating the US and Mexico, and a temporary ban on Muslims entering the US, could impact many international students’ plans if enacted. With increasing concern in the wake of recent terror attacks, Trump’s running-mate Mike Pence said he and Trump “have been very, very clear about the issue of suspending immigration from countries that have been compromised by terrorism.”
It’s therefore possible that an international student from a country considered to be “compromised by terrorism” could be denied entry to the US. In addition, Trump has called for “ideological screening tests” as a form of “extreme vetting” for immigrants.
However, it’s worth noting that Trump has tweeted in support of international students in the US, writing in August 2015: “When foreigners attend our great colleges and want to stay in the US, they should not be thrown out of our country.”
J-1 visas and OPT
It’s possible that both J-1 visas and optional practical training (OPT) after graduation could be scrapped. J-1 visas are currently issued to allow foreigners to take part in work-and-study-based exchange and visitor programs in the US, supporting cultural exchange. Those employed with a J-1 visa do not have a set wage as US nationals would, meaning that many US companies prefer to hire them as cheaper labor. This could arguably mean fewer US nationals being employed, which underlies Trump’s intention of scrapping the visa.
If the Trump administration does axe the J-1 visa, 300,000 people from 200 countries will be affected. Trump, whose company is among the users of the J-1 visa program, has pledged to replace the visa with a résumé bank for young people from inner cities, which will be provided to all corporate subscribers of the J-1 visa program.
Internationals who could be affected by this include anyone intending to work in the US at a summer camp, in an au pair role or internship, and it could also affect the possibility of foreign students being able to travel to the US for an exchange semester. Trump’s policy on the J-1 visa is not yet totally clear, so it remains to be seen whether it will actually be discarded.
The Trump administration could make it increasingly difficult for foreign graduates to stay in the US and find work. Trump has stated that there are twice as many American graduates in the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) as are needed in the workforce, and that he will propose restrictions on the H-1B visa (which allows US employers to recruit foreign professionals in speciality occupations) to prioritize US workers. Trump’s official campaign website’s immigration page states that he pledges to “establish new immigration controls to boost wages and to ensure that open jobs are offered to American workers first.”
New regulations could mean US employers are required to hire US citizens over international applicants, even if the international applicant is the better candidate. For overseas graduates who wish to become a US permanent resident through the ‘green card’ system, it’s possible that the Trump administration will make this considerably more difficult. Therefore, a higher number of internationals might be heading home soon after graduation.
A new plan for student finance?
It’s unclear whether the Trump administration will make changes to funding opportunities for international students, as higher education was not given much focus during his election campaign. Education secretary Betsy DeVos has yet to make any specific policy statements, though she has promised to “make education great again”.
However, there may be good news for US students. While campaigning in October 2016, Donald Trump expressed his concern for US students facing high levels of debt and endorsed income-based repayment systems (commonly supported by Democrats and Republicans alike). He proposed a repayment system in which students would pay 12.5% of their income each year for 15 years, after which their loans could be forgiven. This is similar to the student loan repayment system for domestic students in the UK.
Trump has also promised to force colleges to cut tuition rates, having criticized both colleges and the federal government for rising fees.
Will international students look elsewhere?
Over a million international students currently study in the US, contributing billions to the country’s economy. However, there are signs that the US may now be perceived as a less welcoming destination – particularly for students from countries, religions or other groups Trump has attacked. Other students may feel disappointed by the Trump administration’s possible changes to work visas, leading them to choose a destination with more attractive graduate employment opportunities.
Renait Stephens, the chief executive of Study in the USA, says international students and their parents are worried, but points out that it’s early days, telling Voa News: “So right now we’re just trying to reassure students that nothing has changed. US campuses are still safe. They’re still open. They’re still diverse. And you still get a fantastic education.”
Other higher education experts are also remaining relatively optimistic, with Peggy Blumenthal of the Institute of International Education (IIE) pointing out that throughout the IIE’s history of collecting data on the number of international students in the US, they have almost never seen a drop – no matter what’s going on in the world.
She says: “There have been many important changes in American policy, in international circumstances, in the economy. But the numbers of international students pretty much continues to rise regardless of what’s going on elsewhere around them.”
US universities themselves will no doubt be keen to send out a message of welcome to students around the world. And for many international students the appeal of a US degree and college experience will trump the Trump administration, whatever their views on the president.
Has the US election affected your decision about where to study? Share your experience in the comments below, and follow us on Facebook and Twitter for updates on how the Trump administration could affect students.