What a Trump presidency means for international students

By Aidan Quigley and Kyle Stewart

The election of Republican Donald Trump as president of the United States is raising questions on what policies he will pursue following a campaign with limited policy proposals. The area of higher education is particularly under focus, including what effect his election will have on international students in the United States.

During his campaign partially centered on preventing illegal immigration, Trump also made some comments on limiting legal immigration. He’s spoken out against President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood arrivals and students on F-1 visas. During the campaign, he also proposed temporarily banning Muslims from entering the United States.

Jason Lane, professor in the Department of Educational Administration and Policy Studies at the University of Albany, studies higher education policy. He said Trump’s election will have a “chilling effect” on international students studying in the United States, at least in the short term.

“Those who are already here are wondering how the promises made during the campaign are going to affect them around immigration and the tightening of immigration regulations,” he said. “I think those who are outside the U.S. thinking about applying are certainly going to be much more critical about wondering if this is where they want to spend the next four years.”


A survey of 1,000 international students from Study in the USA,  an organization that helps international students study in the United States, before the election found that 65 percent would be less likely to study in the U.S. if Trump won.

“We’ve are hearing concerns from the fall out of its election and its result,” Renait Stephens, the CEO of Study in the USA, said. “It is early days yet, and we know that institutions are working to ensure their international students feel valued.”

An international student at Ithaca College who requested anonymity due to the sensitivity of the topic, said she would not have come to IC if Trump had been elected when she was applying to college. She said international students are concerned about the election result.

“We are all worried about what happens to us, our visas, et cetera,” she said. “We have to deal with a lot of racism as it is, especially in airports, now we are worried even more for our safety. We are confused, and scared about our future.”

She said she wasn’t sure if she would be returning next fall.

“I have to think about my safety and whether this country would want someone like me here after college,” she said.

Although Stephens said specific policy changes are still up in the air, Trump’s election has international students worried about attitudes toward diversity in the U.S.

“One of the core values  of international education is celebrating diversity, learning from differences,” she said. “We’re hoping our institutions of higher learning will be open, diverse and a fantastic education for many years to come.”  

Akhilesh Issur, a senior at Cornell University and the Student Assembly international student liaison at large, said he, along with many other international students, were surprised by the outcome.

“Before coming to the U.S., most of us perceive the U.S. as being a very progressive and liberal country, but after being here for a while, and learning about the different viewpoints, we understand that that’s not really the case,” he said. “Even if Ithaca and New York remain largely liberal, it is obvious to us that the Trump victory signaled some important tensions that need to be fixed.”

There have been two historic dips in international students studying in the United States. The first occurred following the 1979 Iran hostage situation. Before then, there was a large population of Iranian students in the United States; however, increased visa regulations led to a setback in international students that took a couple of years to recover from, Stephens said.

The other was 9/11, which led to a 2–3 percent decrease in international students, she said.

“Some of it was in response to the U.S. being seen as a less welcoming place for Muslim students and some of it was in response to visa regulations,” Stephens said.

A dip in international students could have a financial impact on the United States as a whole as well. There are around 1 million international students studying in the United States, according to Study in the USA. They bring around $32 billion to the U.S. economy annually, and support 375,000 jobs.

Lane said Trump’s election will likely make it more difficult for the United States to retain students who study here after graduation.

“We already have a difficult time keeping international students here to pursue jobs after we have educated them because of the way the visa system works, so it may be even more difficult to kept them here after we invest that education capital into their training and learning, they may opt to go elsewhere,” he said.

Issur said it is important to wait and see what the president’s policies are before jumping to conclusions.

“Some of us are more optimistic than others,” he said. “Overall, international students will to wait to see what the Republican administration decides to do, if they decide to do anything at all. Perhaps, the U.S. will witness a decrease in international student applications in the future, but this is only a speculation.”

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