Never ending litany of woes for immigrant community grows with directive on foreign students

International travelers (reflected in a closed door) arrive on the day that U.S. President Donald Trump’s limited travel ban, approved by the U.S. Supreme Court, goes into effect, at Logan Airport in Boston, Massachusetts, U.S., June 29, 2017. REUTERS/Brian Snyder/Files

NEW YORK – The immigrant community on a visa in the United States would not be blamed if they thought of late their struggle to stay on and eke out a living, enjoy a normal quality of life in their adopted land has become a sort of futile arm-wrestling match with the Trump administration, whose strength is that of the Incredible Hulk.

In a re-election year, with the pandemic now turning into gargantuan proportions, seemingly out of control in several states; throwing poll plans and campaign rallies askew, the Trump administration have once again found a soft target to try pull together their base of conservative voters who love the mantra of ‘America First’: immigrants.

In 2016, the focus was on illegal immigrants. In 2020, it’s ‘Hello visa guys! Time to remove you!’

After a slew of rules by the Trump administration in the last few months that made life hard for skilled visa workers, finally culminated in reining in of visas like H-1B and L; stopped the issue of Green Cards overseas and entry of new skilled workers till 2021, a new salvo has been directed at the base of the pyramid from where immigration flourishes in the country – international students, who comprise the maximum number of foreigners trooping into the US annually, on a visa, after tourists.

The new directive issued by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement last week for international students to leave the US if their college or university offers only online classes in the fall, seems to be a calculated strategy with multiple goals in mind.

At the top of the agenda is likely a move to force educational institutions to open up campuses in the fall, as has been urged by President Trump.

If enough international students leave the US or take a semester or two off, a lot of private universities would face a calamitous financial predicament, dependent as they are on the lucrative body of international students who, especially at the undergraduate level, pay full tuition and board; contribute millions of dollars to the neighborhood of the institutions, too.

Trump wants normalcy to creep in at lightning speed, despite the rising number of coronavirus cases and deaths daily. Shuttered campuses would dispel the notion of ‘normalcy’ come November 3.

According to the 2019 Open Doors Report on International Education, there are more than one million international students in the United States. In 2018, international students contributed $45 billion to the US economy, including paying taxes. These students represent 5.5% of the entire US higher education enrollment.

The second motive is one that immigration hardliners love and a solid reason why Trump’s core supporters love him and his irreverent tactics: disrupt and remove immigrants, illegal or legal, who seem to be populating more and more of the suburban and even rural areas.

The guiding fear of this is to not let America be dwarfed by a majority ethnic community, with Whites as a minority – a scenario very much feasible in a couple of decades if the current immigration levels continue, say demographic experts.

There are other minor motives, probably, like hindering the ability of certain H-1B visa workers to circumnavigate current rules by applying as students if they get laid off or are unable to get an extension, and stay on in the country to work; or to stymie the growth of the Optional Practical Training at the university level which hardliners say is taking jobs away from American workers, and often pave the way for a work visa and later permanent residency.

One thing the new ICE rule makes it clear, and is at the root of the problem, is that international students are second class residents, not at par with classmates who are American citizens or those with a Green Card.

It’s one thing to deride an H-1B visa worker, say from India, who can easily be blamed for coming into the country, taking up a job, making money, and quite another thing to ostracize an international student on an F-1 visa, who pays more than the average American student for studying here in the US.

Even if one were to forget serious issues of flight restrictions during this time of a pandemic, or the concern of students they might catch the dreaded coronavirus on their way back home, infect their elderly parents, or their career objectives could be ruined after years of hard work, there’s only one bottom line to the ICE directive: it’s totally unfair.

(Sujeet Rajan is Executive Editor, Parikh Worldwide Media. Email him: Follow him on Twitter @SujeetRajan1)



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