While uncertainty abounded for international students regarding work and student visas during the Trump presidency, the results of the election were heartening for international students. Mexican international student Isaac Morás-Guevara told Brigham Young University’s student newspaper The Daily University, “I trust that [President Biden’s] policies will bring America back to what it used to be: A land of fair opportunities for everybody who seeks honest growth.”
In a multi-part Rolling Stone feature on immigration, international students weighed in on what the election results meant to them. Australian James Stuart says, “When we learned that he had lost the election on Saturday morning, I felt this enormous weight lifted off my shoulders because even if these directives don’t become policy, [Trump] has just been undermining the American immigration process since day one.”
Despite concerns about Trump’s policies, the US managed to hang onto its status as the top destination in the world for international students for the fifth consecutive year. According to the latest Open Doors report from the Institute of International Education (IIE) and the US Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, more than a million international students chose the US for their international studies. “International student mobility is as important today as ever, and we believe the United States is the best destination for students to study and earn their degrees. Education is a pathway to a greater future and international educational exchange has the power to transform students’ trajectories,” says Assistant Secretary of State Marie Royce.
There may be even more cause for optimism looking ahead in spite, or perhaps because of, the pandemic, according to IIE president and chief executive Allan Goodman. “While pandemics cause tremendous hardship and disruption, there are also strong reasons for optimism. After each, international education exchange rapidly resumes and the number of students involved also grows substantially,” Goodman says.
This isn’t to say international enrollments in the US weren’t affected by the combination of Trump policies and the pandemic. One study showed a 43 percent drop in new international student enrollments in the fall of 2020. While experts predict that the vaccine will help reverse the trend, the change in administration could also make a big difference; especially if President Biden rescinds several policies proposed under Trump which would detrimentally impact international students. Furthermore, international exchange advocates are also eager for the development of a national strategy for international student recruitment.
According to Inside Higher Ed, we can expect a “reset in international education policies under Biden,” helped by the fact that Trump’s anti-international student policies can and will be reversed via executive action. Anticipated changes include the reformation of the temporary visa program; the reinstating of Title IX policies which prohibit discrimination in higher education; the restoration of the naturalization process for green card holders; an increase in the number of visas available for permanent, work-based immigration; support for family-based immigration; and the preservation of family unification.
International students weren’t the only ones who were relieved. So were many US companies that rely on international talent, according to Vault. That said, while international students’ job prospects may be far better now than they were in the previous administration, there are some things aspiring job hunters can do to improve their choices. These include starting the job search before going to the US and developing in-demand skills without relying on impending changes to visa regulations.
President Biden and Vice President Harris aren’t the only ones worth celebrating on the education front. So is the new First Lady, Jill Biden. With two master’s degrees and a PhD in education, she’s an excellent and informed advocate for higher education. Her mission, as student debt continues to balloon, is to continue lobbying for debt-free community college.
While it’s not going to be all smooth sailing, nor is there any assurance that international students won’t be weathering a similar storm four years from now, there is solace to be found in the current state. Perhaps international student Advay Masingka puts it best. He told The Brown Daily Herald, “We’re living in a more hopeful time. I hope people can be more united after four years of polarization.”