The latest in a string of moves cracking down on immigration, the president announced on Twitter on April 21 that the move was necessary due to “the attack from the invisible enemy” Covid-19, which has so far resulted in more than 42,000 deaths in the US.
“It is disappointing but not surprising”
“By pausing immigration, we’ll help put unemployed Americans first in line for jobs as America reopens. So important,” Trump further elaborated on April 22. “It would be wrong and unjust for Americans laid off by the virus to be replaced with new immigrant labor flown in from abroad.”
However, a suspension of immigration is not expected to directly impact numbers of international students enrolling at institutions across the country, stakeholders have suggested.
The proclamation does not currently impact applicants for adjustment of status to permanent residence, or nonimmigrants, such as students, exchange visitors, H-1B workers, visitors for business or pleasure, NASFA noted.
The Trump administration has gradually expanded travel restrictions and slowed visa processing in an attempt to stem the spread of the virus.
Since March 20, the Department of State has temporarily suspended routine visa services at all US embassies and consulates, cancelling all routine immigrant and nonimmigrant visa appointments.
“As of now, US consulates and embassies are not operating in most parts of the world, travel bans have been instituted for certain countries, issues related to immigration and the current administration abound with zero comprehensive approach or understanding of the role of immigration in the US economy,” Fanta Aw, vice president of Campus Life & Inclusive Excellence at American University in Washington, told The PIE News earlier this week.
“It is disappointing but not surprising.”
Higher education organisations in the US previously warned that overall enrolment for the next academic year will drop by 15%, while a projected decline of 25% of international students is expected.
The 25% decline in international student enrolment would lead to a loss of approximately $10 billion and 114,000 jobs to the US economy, NAFSA has said.
“We can unequivocally state that [international students and scholars] are vital to the US economy,” NAFSA executive director and CEO, Esther D. Brimmer said.
“International students create jobs, drive innovation, enrich our campuses and communities, strengthen national security, and become America’s greatest foreign policy assets.”
In 2019, international students contributed nearly $41 billion to the US economy, supporting more than 458,000 jobs, she added.
“International education the fifth-largest US services export. Nearly one-quarter of the founders of the $1 billion US startup companies first came to America as international students. In times of international crises such as this one, it is abundantly clear how our best efforts to address global challenges must draw on global talent,” Brimmer added.
Speaking with The PIE, assistant dean, International Strategy and Programs at San Diego State University World Campus, Eddie West, said the message the president gave will likely be more impactful than the policy.
“Students around the world who have been looking to come to the US to start their studies this summer or fall are to varying extents looking for signs of the likelihood of that being possible, like the rest of us in the field, and that tweet isn’t the most encouraging sign,” he suggested.
West added that visiting students are on F1 non-immigrant visas meaning the “suspension of immigration shouldn’t itself have any material impact on student mobility because students aren’t considered immigrants”.
“But there’s likely to be an adverse impact in this being another indirect signal that the US isn’t close to throwing open its borders to any type of international mobility as yet.”
“That tweet isn’t the most encouraging sign”
West said that the universities and other organisations that will best weather this unprecedented situation are those “able, financially and strategically, to take the long view in terms of planning.”
Attorney at law firm, Hall Estill, Diane Hernandez called the limit on legal immigration “illogical” and “irrational”.
“Whenever this country emerges from lockdown, we will need these highly qualified workers in industries such as healthcare, education, and STEM fields such as science and engineering to help grow the economy back to prior levels. Locking these people out will be a mistake,” Hernandez said.
US exchange organisations are also helping exchange visitors remaining in the US who have been left in limbo due to the swift escalation of the crisis.
On April 20, the US, Mexico, and Canada agreed to extend restrictions on non-essential travel across their shared borders for 30 additional days.
“As president Trump stated last week, border control, travel restrictions and other limitations remain critical to slowing the spread and allowing the phased opening of the country,” explained acting secretary of Department of Homeland Security, Chad Wolf.
This story was updated: 10:00 GMT April 24.