“The world is watching, watching all of us today,” Joe Biden said, after he was sworn in as the 46th president of the United States. “The answer,” he added, “is not to turn inward.”
President Biden had barely finished swearing his oath when he signed 17 executive orders, including one ending the Trump administration’s ban on travelers, including students and scholars, from a half-dozen largely Muslim countries and another preserving DACA,
which protects young immigrants brought to the U.S. as children from deportation. He also announced a major piece of legislation, comprehensive immigration reform, which, among other provisions, would make it possible for more international PhD graduates in STEM fields to stay in the U.S.
(As of this writing, the bill text was not yet available.)
When, less than a week after taking office, former President Trump imposed the travel ban, he sent a signal that immigration and visa policy — and international students and scholars — would be politicized. Likewise, Biden is setting a clear tone from Day One, of openness and global engagement.
Still, attitude and action are different things, and there’s no guarantee about what comes next. Governing by executive order and rulemaking
repeatedly tripped the Trump administration up, and while I would expect the Biden team to be more careful in following procedure, decrees like the flurry of those signed on Inauguration Day could be subject to legal challenge. Biden’s quick work of undoing many Trump initiatives also underscores the impermanence of unilateral presidential orders.
Meanwhile, getting broad legislative reform done is just hard. Past administrations tried and failed to pass immigration bills, and their legislative margins weren’t nearly as narrow. Already, I’ve heard rumblings that, if stymied, the Biden administration could break off pieces of the broader bill. Such standalone legislation could favor an effort like expanding green cards for PhDs, which has bipartisan support. But is it a priority?
OK, enough speculation. For many in international education, the new administration was a reason for celebration. Here’s a taste of what was shared with me:
“It means hope,” wrote a graduate student at Texas Tech. “It means being able to breathe freely and having the weight that has been on my chest for months and years lifted. It means being able to visit my family this summer without fearing that immigration policy will be changed in the middle of my trip.”
A parent in Dubai said it renewed confidence in the choice to send his daughter to the U.S. “Many countries export degrees, but we chose America for an education. An education in not only our chosen field of study but an education in a way to be and pursue goals with a zeal and freedom possible only in America.”
From the head of an Indian admissions-counseling company: