International students voiced their concern over a newly proposed federal policy that could establish a maximum period of authorized stay, making it more difficult for international students to remain in the country.
Currently, international students can stay in the United States as long as they maintain their student status, a period known as a “duration of status.” The Trump administration’s policy, which is proposed to go into effect in the fall of 2019, would set a fixed maximum term limit for studying in the United States. The proposal does not yet specify what the limit on the period of stay for student visa holders would be.
Some legal experts argue, however, that the proposed rule most likely will not come into effect in the near future, as it is due to receive comments from the public and is also subject to potential challenges by federal courts.
While the overall number of international students in the United States is declining—according to Forbes, the number of international students enrolled at U.S. universities dropped by 4 percent between 2016 and 2017—Columbia’s international student population has continued to grow in the past decade. Currently, there are 10,785 international students in attendance at Columbia.
Trump’s immigration policies have caused some students to reevaluate their plans after graduation.
“I’m personally pre-med, so in my head, I was envisioning myself applying to an American medical school, which is why I came here for undergraduate school,” Valerie Cossich, CC ’22, said. “Now that there are going to be more regulations, that’s just scary. … It just puts into question whether or not I want to go to an American school for graduate school.”
Trump issued an executive order in early 2017 which foreshadowed that his policies would target visa overstays. This most recently proposed policy adds to a growing sense of anxiety felt by international students over the Trump administration’s increasingly stringent rhetoric around international visas.
“International students are generally more fearful, because we are in a foreign country. There’s always the fear of losing your status as a student or getting deported. [This fear has] definitely increased in my experience, just because people are unsure of what’s going to happen. It’s unpredictable,” CCSC International Student Representative Nikola Danev, CC ’20, said. “Why is it that a lot of us are fearful? It’s probably because of the uncertainty with this administration.”
Despite student fears over visa concerns, Associate Provost and Director for the International Students and Scholars Office David Austell said that Columbia is more committed than ever to protecting and providing for international students.
“What can be expected from ISSO is aggressive strengthening of our service structure for the sake of international students. The University is demonstrating strong support for international students in the growing of the programs and continuing sophistication of technology in assisting the students,” Austell said. “If a student is in need, we are activated instantly to [address] what that student’s needs are and what needs to happen so in the next year and as we look ahead three years, five years.”
The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services announced earlier this year that it plans to change how “unlawful presence,” a student’s presence after the expiration of a period of authorized stay, is determined. The USCIS has proposed imposing harsher punishments for graduates who overstay their visas.
“I think it’s something I try not to think about—the fact the relationships and connections I’m making here are sort of temporal,” Laurence Huang, CC ’22 said. “It’s sort of confined to this one small period in my life.”
Some schools have begun to take action by filing suits against the Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, including Haverford College and The New School. These suits argue that the new policy would make it easier for students to be barred from the U.S. if they lose their status.
Danev added that he would like to see expanded resources at the ISSO.
“These people that work at ISSO are incredible and do help people out, but it’s impossible for them to do everything,” Danev said. “They could absolutely use at least three times more people than they have right now.”
In response to an increased need for support, the ISSO will be hiring four new international student advisers to the Morningside campus office and has already increased its walk-in hours this semester, according to Austell.