Kempis: Trump’s inauguration generates new wave of uncertainty among international students

Nicole Kempis, Opinion Editor

This is the first in a series that will examine the challenges NU faces as it strives to become a global university.

International Student Orientation commenced in September of my freshman year, a few days before the “local” American students arrived. I remember it was frigid and drizzling the first time I saw my new home. For many of us, it was our first time in the U.S., and those initial days were fraught with excitement and anxiety that extended beyond the usual freshman jitters.

Many international students don’t fully understand what they are getting into when they agree to attend Northwestern, as distance from the U.S. breeds ignorance and uncertainty. This naiveté is the natural result of geographical and cultural distance, but it could have more serious consequences under President-elect Donald Trump.

For international students, notions of American college life are based on TV shows, our friends’ anecdotes and, most importantly, the press. As a result, the widespread coverage of Trump’s racist, anti-immigrant rhetoric could have a serious impact on who chooses to apply to and attend NU.

A survey before the election by Intead and FPP EDU Media found that 60 percent of incoming international students believed they would be less likely to come to the U.S. if Trump won.

But even after the election, University President Morton Schapiro told The Daily he remains confident that NU will be able to recruit international students, noting that the University’s international representation has surged since his arrival.

“We’ve doubled that representation,” Schapiro said. “I don’t see under soon-to-be President Trump that that’s going to change.”

Still, Schapiro did acknowledge that Trump’s presidency could make things harder for students from Muslim countries such as Pakistan — among Trump’s proposed policies are plans to restrict immigration from such countries. Apart from making current students uneasy, such plans could have practical implications for future Middle Eastern students, rendering it more difficult to obtain student visas to enter the U.S.

“Trump’s anti-Muslim rhetoric is a concern when it comes to recruiting and enrolling students from countries with significant Muslim populations or leadership,” said Aaron Zdawczyk, associate director of international recruitment. “The greatest impact could be on graduate students who are coming to the U.S to pursue studies in engineering or sciences, subjects that might be perceived as a potentially threatening.

Trump has also suggested policies targeting exchange students. For example, he insisted that he would scrap the J-1 student visa, which allows exchange students to work and study in the U.S. The loss of this visa status could affect NU’s relationships with partner institutions and diminish our ability to send our own students on exchanges.

Karey Fuhs, NU’s international program for development assistant director, said in an email that “it is unlikely that J-1 programs would be eliminated, but there is certainly potential for immigration regulations to change and for those changes to have an impact on NU’s various international exchange programs, including our undergraduate student exchange.”

Trump’s policies targeting the H-1B visa, which is the most common post-graduation visa for international students, have also generated speculation among current students. This year he claimed he would make the practice of hiring H-1B students — a process that already costs upward of $5,000 — even more expensive. Uncertainty generated by anti-immigration policies and restrictions may be prompting international students to apply to universities located outside the U.S., such as Canada or Australia.

Despite these concerns, the University received a record-breaking number of applications from all over the world last year. NU’s prestige may have shielded it from the immediate effects of the election, because a degree from NU is internationally recognized and transferable if students need to leave the U.S. NU also has a relatively diverse student body, which reassures potential international students that their differences will be accepted, even as U.S. leadership seems to be shifting towards more nationalistic policies.

Whether or not students choose to accept this year’s offers from U.S. universities may depend on how Trump’s first few months in office play out.

If NU wants to maintain its international population, we need to allay fears that international students are no longer welcome in the U.S. Numerous universities circulated “you are welcome here” videos to remind international students that they are valued in the academic community. In order to encourage international diversity, we need current students, faculty and global outreach programs to take an active role in asserting that Trump’s anti-immigration rhetoric does not reflect the reality at NU.

Nicole Kempis is a Weinberg junior. She can be reached at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected].
The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.