President Trump’s March 6 Executive Order effectively bans entry into the U.S. for nationals of six Muslim-majority countries — Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. This has received widespread condemnation from higher education organizations and has been temporarily blocked by federal judges. However, there are still provisions in the order that are still in effect.
Extreme Vetting: One provision of the order calls for the development of new screening and vetting procedures (the subtext being to prevent entry of terrorists into the country) for “all immigration programs.” According to the Wall Street Journal (WSJ), this vetting could include requiring foreign nationals who want to visit the U.S. to disclose contacts on their cell phones, their social media passwords and financial records — some financial records showing proof of funding sources are already required for student visas.
One State Department official said that security screening procedures are the same for immigrant and nonimmigrant visas — the latter being the types of visas on which international students and scholars typically travel. The Trump administration is considering asking those questions during the visa application process — a process that’s controlled by the State Department, a process occurring well before travelers ever arrive at American airports.
Visa Vetting: WSJ further reports that in memos sent by Internal State Department to consular chiefs, they are now being instructed to develop a list of criteria identifying sets of post-applicant populations warranting increased scrutiny and asking them a list of questions which includes questions about their employment, travel histories, prior passport numbers, addresses, and phone numbers, email addresses and social media handles.
Immigration lawyers say that the instructions outlined in the memos, combined with another, less remarked-upon provision of Trump’s March 6 executive order that suspended the visa interview waiver program, could lead to increased backlogs and wait times. Previously, under the interview waiver program, some international students, for example, were able to skip a required in-person interview at the U.S. consulate when it came time to renew their visas.
According to Immigration lawyer Stephen Yale-Loehr, more people are going to have to be interviewed in the first place, because they have suspended the visa interview waiver program, and the background checks are going to take longer. More security advisory opinions will be required from people, meaning that even after a visa interview, the consulates will have to send people’s information off to other posts or to Washington, D.C., for background checks, which will slow down the process. He added that the time involved in social media checks will leave less time for interviews. It would be harder for academics and others to plan how long it will take them to get the visas they need. Incoming international students would have to apply as soon as possible for their F student visa since there is less information on how much longer it’s going to take on average to get an F student visa this summer than it has in the past.
The effects can be seen in the summer months which is a high season for student visa applications at consulates, and going into the fall season, as international students arrive in the United States to start their course of study. We also may see fewer currently enrolled international students choosing to depart the United States for the summer break in order to avoid not being able to return in the fall. School officials are also steadily attributing the decrease in applications for next year because of these new procedures.
A joint survey by AACRAO, IACAC, IIE, NACAC and NAFSA showed that 38% of U.S. universities are reporting declines in international applications for the fall, and international student recruitment professionals report “a great deal of concern” from students and their families about visas and their perception that the climate in the U.S. is now less welcoming to individuals from other countries.
This drop is coming after 10 years of steady growth in international enrollments in the U.S. When compared to universities in Canada, they are recording increases in international applications of 20 percent or more.
The situation regarding the new immigration policies is still developing but it is clear that the image of education in America under the Trump Administration is suffering.