Trump’s Student Visa Policy

Last week, I began writing this article on what Trump’s Student Visa Policy might be. As I was writing, reports came in that the president-elect had broken with decades of precedent by having a direct conversation with the Taiwanese leader, Tsai Ing-wen. I stopped writing and determined to wait until there appeared to be a conclusion. China issued a swift rejoinder, criticizing Trump as an amateur at diplomacy and seemingly deflecting the controversy towards the Taiwanese leadership. Over the next few days, I watched with a mix of disappointment and amusement as the president-elect railed at China via Twitter as cooler and more experienced heads around him tried to contain the damage. Later in the week, China asked that Ms. Ing-wen, not be admitted to the United States for a planned visit. By the weekend, Trump had not vacillated or tempered his rhetoric but instead, in an interview with Fox News, confirmed his belief that the One China Policy, the bedrock of U.S.-China relations, is not, in his view, inviolate. Trump also reaffirmed his campaign pledge to build a border wall between the U.S. and Mexico.

The primary question that I and other immigration attorneys have had to answer from anxious visa holders and applicants since the election is what Trump’s student visa policy will be and what effect it might have on current and prospective students. There are also concerns about curtailment of the H1-B visa program for high tech workers which would limit the post-graduation employment and immigration options of many foreign students in the U.S. The fate of the H1-B program and other areas of immigration law that are likely to be effected by a Trump presidency will be the topic of a separate article in my series on Trump’s immigration policies. The delay in completing this article due to Trump’s foreign policy forays or gaffes, depending on how you wish to characterize it, illustrates well why it is so difficult to prognosticate. One can never know what to expect from Donald Trump.

The best that the immigration bar can do in seeking to accurately anticipate what Trump’s student visa policy will be is to look to his capabilities as president, his prior statements, though ever shifting, and those of his appointees, as well as historical precedent. To first answer the most pressing of questions, no, it is highly unlikely that students legally in the U.S. on valid student visas will be ejected as part of Trump’s student visa policy. However, Trump’s student visa policy will likely not preclude students with proper documentation from being subjected to more extensive vetting procedures in line with Trump’s larger immigration policy initiatives. In my earlier article, Trump’s Immigration Proposals, Part One, I discussed some these proposals at length. Under Trump’s student visa policy, students who return home to countries designated for “extreme vetting” may have difficulty reentering the U.S. A pertinent historical example of what may be expected is the crackdown on Iranian immigrants and students during the Carter administration. Iranians were, at the time, the largest foreign student nationality in the U.S. The students were ordered to report to immigration offices and required to prove that their activities in the U.S. were consistent with their visa status. Many were placed in deportation proceedings. Similar actions may be expected as part of Trump’s student visa policy.

Prospective students from all countries, but especially those designated for “extreme vetting,” should expect to have their student visa applications more carefully reviewed. There are two primary reasons that this should be expected. First, Trump’s student visa policy will be part of his larger immigration and national security policy. There is a belief in the U.S., in part due to misstatements made by some American politicians, that student visas are a common vehicle for terrorists to enter the U.S. While it is true that some terrorists have taken advantage of the U.S. open door student visa policy, including those involved in the September 11 attacks and the Boston Marathon bombing, the perception of the vulnerability of the student visa program for use as a conduit for terrorists is, in my opinion, highly overstated. The second reason is the prevalence of different forms of student visa fraud. This includes students entering the U.S. for purposes outside the scope of their student visas, the existence of “sham schools” that defraud students or facilitate different types of student visa fraud, and students who gain access to U.S. schools through various types of fraud including the submission of doctored transcripts and fake letters of recommendation. Student visa fraud and how to avoid it is a  broad topic that will be the subject of an upcoming series of articles.

Central to Trump’s student visa policy is his call for elimination of the J-1 visa program. The J-1 visa program permits participants to work temporarily in the U.S. for the purposes of cultural and educational exchange. Participants often work as visiting scholars, students and au pairs. Full implementation of Trump’s student visa policy would replace the J-1 program with a job bank for inner city youth. Cultural exchange facilitators and foreign diplomats correctly note that Trump cannot summarily abolish the J-1 visa program. An act or congress would be required. For now, the existence of the J-1 visa program is secure. However, the program will be subject to the same administrative and processing requirements that are generally applied as part of Trump’s student visa policy.

In contrast to the alarming statements made during the campaign, there were also statements, like the two examples that follow, that tend to suggest that Trump’s student visa policy will not be as draconian as feared. It should be noted, however, that these statements primarily refer to Trump’s student visa policy as it might apply after foreign students graduate from U.S. universities.

            When foreigners attend our great colleges & want to stay in the U.S., they should not be thrown out of our                  country. — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 18, 2015

            I want talented people to come into this country—to work hard and to become citizens. Silicon Valley needs               engineers, etc. — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 18, 2015

International students currently in the U.S. or prospective students to U.S. schools are understandably and justifiably anxious as to what the future may hold for them. Many students have expressed their well-founded fears in media interviews. If you are considering study in the U.S., contact the Immigration Law Office of L. Ford Banister, II for a thorough case review and long term immigration planning. We will make sure your application is in in proper order before submission and that are prepared for the interview. We will continue to be available for consultation throughout your course of study so that you do not fall out of status or lose your student visa privileges. If you are subject to or are threatened by negative effects due to Trump’s student visa policy, The Immigration Law Office of L. Ford Banister, II will be there to guide you safely through any adversity so that you can complete without interruption your U.S. university or secondary school studies.

For further information, see my post on U.S. Student Visa Policy, Requirements and Process.

Click here for an overview of our Our American Student Visa Service.