University Upheaval: The Trump Administration Goes After Student Visas

By Andrew Soboeiro

The quality of American education has always been a two-way street. Because American universities are renowned throughout the world for their quality teaching and extensive resources, students from every nation want to study here. These students in turn contribute their knowledge, skills, and insights to our universities, improving their global reputation. Previous presidents were well aware of this symbiotic relationship, and endeavored to attract more foreign students to study here. But the Trump Administration has taken a different tack. As part of his effort to drive away immigrants, Trump is imposing draconian punishments for student visa violations. The results are troubling not only for foreign students, but for all Americans.

Oversight for Overstays

The Trump Administration has defended its new policy as a way to crack down on student visa violations. Many foreign students and scholars who enter the United States on F-1, M-1, or J-1 visas end up violating the terms of those permits or staying after they expire. The new policy would create more serious consequences for this by:

  • Moving Up the Start Date: Foreigners who overstay educational visas are typically given 180 days to get out of the country before they are punished. Hitherto, this period began on the day Federal authorities learned about the violation. But now, it will begin the moment their visa expires or becomes invalid, even if the government doesn’t learn about it until much later.
  • Setting Stricter Punishments: Until this point, students who overstayed their visas had to leave the country, but they could then update those visas or apply for new ones and promptly come back. But with the new policy, anyone who violates their visa will not be allowed back in the country for either 3 or 10 years, depending on how long they overstayed.
  • Punishing Retroactively: Under the new rules, it will be possible for Federal authorities to punish foreign students for visa violations retroactively. Many students may find themselves automatically banned in this way.

These new visa policies will go into effect on August 9th. Once they do, foreign students and scholars will have to pay close attention to the terms of their visas and take care never to violate them.

Radical Results

At first glance, these policies may seem fair. Visas, after all, have expiry dates for a reason. If a student overstays or otherwise violates their entry permit, why shouldn’t they be sent away?

The problem with this justification is that visa violations are not always clear-cut. A student may fail to uphold the terms of their visa without realizing it. For example, it’s common for students who are suffering from mental health problems to choose a light course load for a semester or two until they are ready to take on more. But foreign students who do this could end up enrolling in too few courses to continue their visas. Under the old system, such students would at least have time to realize their mistake and enroll in more courses. The new rules give them no leeway for errors like these.

Besides accidental violations, there are visa issues that are open to interpretation. For example, many foreign students who attempt to work in the United States after completing their studies have to meet certain subjective job requirements. It is possible for a student to think they meet the necessary requirements, only to learn that Federal authorities have a different interpretation. Now, someone in this situation could be automatically banned from the country.

A Threat to American Education

These policies aren’t just bad for foreign students and scholars. They’re also a threat to the American education system! American universities benefit immensely from foreign talent and scholarship. Many visiting students are among the most brilliant minds their countries have to offer. They bring valuable insight into science, business, technology, and the arts, which enrich American lives and grow the US economy. By punishing even the slightest visa violations, we dissuade these individuals from coming here, and thus make our country poorer and less dynamic.

To illustrate just how bad this policy’s effects could be, consider one of the most important industries in the country: medicine. The US medical system is suffering from a severe shortage of doctors, nurses, and other skilled health workers. One of the most effective ways we can fill this gap is by encouraging foreign nationals to attend American medical schools and then work here after graduation. Indeed, as it stands now, the immigration options for foreign graduates of US medical schools wishing to stay and work in this country are already limited. Under the new rules, few students will want to study medicine in the United States in the first place, and even fewer will stay to work. The result is less effective healthcare for all Americans.

Vigoda Law Firm pays close attention to Federal immigration policy and its effects on everyday life. For more information on developments like this and your legal options as an immigrant, call 919-307-7817 or visit our website today.