The executive order
the president signed a few days later, on Wednesday, turned out to be a nothingburger, at least for international ed. It didn’t affect international students or others seeking nonimmigrant visas. It didn’t affect changes of status for current students or applications for OPT. It didn’t affect graduates hoping for coveted H1-Bs or postdocs being hired for research or teaching positions. In the end, its scope was pretty much limited to people outside the country applying for green cards over the next 60 days — which is kind of a moot point with the coronavirus shuttering embassies and bringing visa processing to a standstill.
This isn’t the first time President Trump or others in his administration have intimated sweeping action was in the offing that ended up being more modest than billed. Comprehensive immigration reform has yet to happen. A total prohibition on Chinese students was shot down. Changes to OPT, the postgraduate work program, have been on the policymaking agenda for most of the Trump years but no new regulations have been issued.
But that doesn’t make students’ anxiety any less real. After all, the travel ban was enacted, albeit in watered-down form. Some STEM students from China now face tougher vetting. The administration ended DACA, the program protecting young undocumented immigrants from deportation — the U.S. Supreme Court could rule any day on whether that was lawful.
In short, students are habituated to expect if not the worst, then something bad. The tweets and the speeches might just be a bark, but they fear the bite. In the end, is there much difference?
Finally — and I may be, in journalist parlance, burying the lead — there is a provision students and colleges ought to watch in President Trump’s proclamation: Section 6 orders a 30-day review of nonimmigrant visa programs with recommendations of changes to “stimulate the United States economy and ensure the prioritization, hiring, and employment of United States workers.” Stay tuned.
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