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How will the Trump administration’s policies affect international students?

  • November 11, 2016
  • , Yahoo!News Japan digital , 5:35
  • JMH Translation

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By Chieka Wakamatsu, study-abroad journalist


Donald Trump has made a number of remarks on immigration throughout the presidential campaign that are bordering on extreme. What will his policy be on international students, which are one category of immigrants? Let’s take a look at how his policy will influence Japanese students in particular.


Trump says international students are “welcome”


Trump has expressed his view in the past that international students are welcome in the U.S. In 2015, Trump posted the following tweets:


“When foreigners attend our great colleges & want to stay in the U.S., they should not be thrown out of our country,” (Aug. 18, 2015)


“I want talented people to come into this country — to work hard and to become citizens. Silicon Valley needs engineers, etc.” (Aug. 19, 2015)


By simply looking at these tweets, it sounds as if Trump’s America will encourage more international students to study in the U.S., and talented ones may receive preferential treatment to stay there.


However, two new visa restrictions are expected to be implemented under the Trump administration.


J-1 visa program to be scrapped


Trump has made public his intention to discontinue and revamp the J-1 visa program. J-1 visas are issued to exchange students, business trainees, participants of internship programs, and others. The maximum period of stay is 18 months and the visa allows holders to legally work in the U.S. for training purposes.


The President-elect justifies his plan for its discontinuing the program by saying that J-1 visa holders are taking low-paying jobs away from American workers. He apparently wants those jobs to be performed by American citizens instead of J-1 visa holders.


Interestingly, the Chicago Tribune reported on March 14 that a large number of J-1 visa holders are employed at a Chicago hotel owned by Trump. ”I wonder if he has any idea what would happen to the operations of this hotel if all those workers were suddenly gone,” one of the workers said. Maybe Trump does not know how deeply involved the J-1 visa holders are in his business.


As for the effect on Japanese students, they tend to participate in an internship and trainee programs offered by corporations and academic institutions purely for purpose of improving their skills and knowledge. The Japanese students who study overseas tend to plan utilizing their skills after returning to Japan or in the global business arena not limited to the U.S.


It would be unfortunate if this opportunity ceased to exist. If the J-1 visa program is discontinued and internship opportunities become scarce, students will choose other countries as destinations for studying abroad.


No more talented foreigners to work in Silicon Valley?


For people who aspire to work in Silicon Valley after graduate school, there’s more bad news


Trump is planning to restrict H-1B visas, which are designed for foreign nationals with special skills. This seems to contradict his previous comment acknowledging America’s need for experts in Silicon Valley.


Currently in the U.S., international students who have completed over nine months of education in specialized fields can work in those fields under the OPT (Optional Practical Training) system. While the OPT system offers another path to legal employment, it expires after a relatively short period because its purpose is not to work per se, but to learn about the field in depth.


Depending on the kind of restrictions posed on the H-1B visa program, talented international students may give up on earning graduate degrees in the U.S. and choose to attend top-level Asian and European universities instead.


In pre-election poll, 60% said they wouldn’t study in the U.S. under Trump


Although the visa issues are significant, the environment for international students is even more serious in the minds of Japanese students overseas.


At the annual meeting of NAFSA (Association of International Educators) in June, an interesting result of a study involving more than 40,000 students in 188 countries was announced. According to NAFSA, over 60% of the students said they would not choose the U.S. as study abroad destination if Donald Trump were elected president. (FPP EDU Media)


The sentiment is strongest in Mexico, where Trump has pledged to build a wall along the national border. That sentiment extended throughout South America.


In Asia, 50.9% of Malaysian respondents and 48.1% of Indonesian students said they would not to go to America if Trump became president. The majority of people in these two countries are Muslim. Many students in the Philippines, Vietnam, and India also said they would not study in the U.S. under a Trump administration.


For U.S. institutions of higher education, the tuition paid by international students is an important source of revenue. Moreover, “diversity” and “internationalism” are major factors in university rankings. If certain nationalities avoid certain schools, it could inflict considerable damage on their rankings.


During the period between 2014 and 2015, 19,064 Japanese students studied in undergraduate and graduate programs in the U.S. (IIE-Institute of International Education). This number would easily exceed 20,000 if language school and high school students were included. America’s reputation as a melting pot has made it a popular destination for students. We plan to watch closely to see if the situation changes.

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