The United States has a new President and Vice President, and also a completely different policy agenda and approach to relations with the rest of the world will be ushered in by the new administration. President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris are planning to lead an immigration reform program and, in the process, create a more welcoming environment for US students from abroad.
The new administration’s agenda and worldview will have particular significance for students abroad who have had long-held dreams of studying in the US but have been dissuaded by the anti-immigration stance and volatile policies of the outgoing administration student visas and work permits.
The growth of foreign enrollment slowed, then decreased
The number of international students in the US grew very slightly, and then not at all, under President Trump. The global student population at American universities increased by only 0.05 percent in 2018/19, and there was a decrease of 2 percent in 2019/20, the first such decrease since 2005/06.
The Trump era will be remembered for the government’s travel bans that affect Muslim-majority nations, the proposal to restrict international student visa terms, deep suspicion of Chinese international students, and growing antipathy to immigration infrastructure that allows international students to stay in the US to work after graduation.
Repealing the travel prohibition
It appears likely that under the new administration, the proposed rule to limit visa terms for international students will come under fresh scrutiny. It is also expected that President Biden will quickly repeal the travel ban and move forward with a plan to issue green cards to international students who are completing doctoral programs. President Biden also believes in increasing the number of work visas in the economic areas where there are skills gaps for international students.
The fact that the Democrats have a majority in both the House and the Senate is expected to pave the way for the Biden government to pursue its agenda to reinvigorate higher education in the US without using executive orders. This outcome looked like it could not happen even at the end of 2020.
A hopeful perspective
When the news broke in early November 2020 that Joe Biden had won the US election, this statement was issued by Dr. Esther Brimmer, NAFSA’s executive director, and CEO:
“The past four years have been one of the most challenging periods in the history of our field, during which international educators have shown unparalleled strength and resilience. They have defended the field against travel bans, executive orders, detrimental regulatory actions, and xenophobic rhetoric. Now we face a horrific pandemic, which further threatens our field and our lives.
We are eager to work with the Biden-Harris administration as President-elect Biden has pledged to address many of these issues as he takes office directly. We are also excited to welcome Dr. Jill Biden to the White House, given her long-standing commitment to expanding access to higher education, specifically advancing our nation’s community colleges. To the end, we see encouraging signs that suggest a more favorable climate for international education, science, and engagement with the world.”