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US: first Biden policies will “restore” international student confidence

US education organisations have welcomed Joseph Biden as the 46th president of the US, whose administration shows “encouraging signs” towards a more favourable climate for international education, science, and engagement with the world.

BidenJoseph Biden was inaugurated as the 46th president of the US on January 20, 2021. Photo: iStock

"It will be hard to reclaim the ground our nation has lost in recent years"

Rescinding the so-called “Muslim Ban” was one of the first acts of the new administration.

In his inaugural speech, President Biden urged unity within the US and shared a stark message to those beyond the country’s borders, before he signed executive orders that stakeholders have welcomed.

“America has been tested and we have come out stronger for it,” he said, referring to the storming of the capitol building in Washington DC in January.

“The international education community generally shares a sense of cautious optimism”

“We will repair our alliances and engage with the world once again,” he said.

“Not to meet yesterday’s challenges, but today’s and tomorrow’s… We will be a strong and trusted partner for peace, progress, and security.”

NAFSA is eager to work with the Biden-Harris administration to address issues around “travel bans, executive orders, detrimental regulatory actions, and xenophobic rhetoric”, as well as a horrific pandemic, its executive director and CEO Esther Brimmer said in November.

“NAFSA looks forward to working closely with the Biden-Harris administration to show the world that the US welcomes and values immigrants; that our colleges and universities are made better by the international students, scholars, researchers and others who choose to bring their talent; and that immigrants truly make America great,” Brimmer said on January 21.

It also published recommendations for the incoming administration in December.

The Presidents’ Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration hailed a “new day for immigrant and international communities, especially Dreamers, international students, refugees, and other immigrant students”.

Echoing Brimmer’s sentiment of the “most challenging periods in the history of our field” over the past four years, immigrant and international communities have “faced one of the harshest immigration climates in a generation”, executive director Miriam Feldblum said.

“Higher education institutions and leaders have been on the front lines seeking to shield students from animus and unjust policies. The new administration represents an opportunity to turn the page and begin – in the words of President Biden – to collectively heal, restore, build, and gain.”

Chair of AIEA’s Public Policy Advisory Committee Tom Bogenschild believes that international educators are buoyed by the transition but noted however that “change won’t be quick or easy”.

“I think the international education community generally shares a sense of cautious optimism, knowing that the president has a lot on his plate,” he told The PIE News.

“The book is still out on the ability and willingness of Congress to work with the executive branch in developing legislation supporting international education,” he explained.

However, Bogenschild expects a “rekindling of international engagement in key departments, State and Education in particular”.

Biden signed 17 executive orders on his first day in office, including Covid-19 response, climate change and immigration measures.

One proclamation aims to end of discriminatory bans against citizens from primarily Muslim countries and from largely African countries on entry to the US, known as the ‘Muslim Ban’.

“These first executive orders are a vital component of restoring the confidence of international students and scholars as they choose whether to study and contribute to US campuses, our economy, and our communities,” Brimmer noted.

“By ending the Travel Ban to Muslim-majority and African countries, the new administration again made it federal policy not to discriminate against those seeking to come to the United States based on their religion or country of origin.”

The Presidents’ Alliance also said the proposed US Citizenship Act of 2021 would clear various visa backlogs, end per-country caps, expand access to green cards for international student graduates, and extend work permits and pathways for dependents of certain visa holders.

The American Council on Education is “gratified” the incoming administration is “acting to correct a number of misguided immigration and visa policies, , many of which affected international students and fed a perception that the United States no longer welcomes students from across the globe”, its president Ted Mitchell said.

“Rescinding the so-called “Muslim travel ban” is one example, and we look forward to the new administration taking additional steps to safeguard our country’s status as the destination of choice for the most talented international students and scholars,” Mitchell noted.

“It will be hard to reclaim the ground our nation has lost in recent years,” the Association of American Universities president Barbara R. Snyder said.

“For decades now – and particularly during the last four years – federal de-prioritisation of investments in research and higher education, inaction on important issues affecting immigration and infrastructure, and implementation of short-sighted policies that harm inclusion and international talent recruitment have done significant damage to the government-university partnership,” she said.

AAU applauded the incoming administration “for immediately moving forward to make America a stronger, more inclusive, and more competitive country” through its executive orders, Snyder added.

The US Chamber of Commerce added that ending the so-called ‘Muslim Ban’ “affirms our nation’s values and our commitment to due process in U.S. immigration policy welcoming all peoples to America”.

“While we support measures to screen for security, an outright ban on entire nations was not aligned with American values,” said Myron Brilliant, its executive vice president and head of international affairs.

“Having the world’s most talented and industrious people contribute to our economy drives growth”

“Having the world’s most talented and industrious people contribute to our economy drives growth, and in turn, creates jobs for hardworking Americans,” Chamber CEO Thomas J. Donohue added.

The announcements also move to protect the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which gives young people with unlawful presence that have brought to the country as children a pathway to residency.

Former president Donald Trump had worked to abolish the program, but his rulings had been overturned by the Supreme Court.

​”We are thrilled that the administration has chosen a comprehensive approach that addresses the needs of entire families in obtaining access to a pathway to citizenship,” said president and CEO the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities of Antonio R. Flores.

Update: this article was updated at 8:00 GMT to include additional comment from NASFA.

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