Graphic by Megan Roche / Sun Assistant Design Editor

The distribution of F-1 visas - the most common visa for U.S. students - is highest for graduate students.

April 25, 2017

National Policies Compound International Student Problems

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It has been a tough year for international students.

The University policy shift from need-blind to need-aware admissions for international students is slated to take place this fall. The Department of Economics announced that after the summer of 2018 they will no longer be offering independent studies for Curricular Practical Training work authorization, which international students use for paid summer internships.

And the election of Donald Trump has brought a plethora of issues, not excluding an increased nationalistic, anti-immigration sentiment.

Now, colleges and universities across the country have their attention turned towards President Donald Trump’s new legislation concerning H-1B visas, which has potential ramifications for the international student application pool.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the H-1B program allows employers to hire nonimmigrant aliens as workers in specialty occupations. They define a specialty occupation as “one that requires the application of a body of highly specialized knowledge and the attainment of at least a bachelor’s degree or its equivalent.”

The goal of the H-1B provisions is to help employers who do not find the skills they desire in the domestic application pool. The program authorizes “temporary employment of qualified individuals who are not otherwise authorized to work in the United States,” according to the Labor Department.

The third largest sponsor of H-1B visas are institutions of higher education, according to a recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education. Trump wants to reform the standards for the visa so that “only the most skilled and highest-paid applicants” are eligible and permitted to get them, the article reported.

Student Assembly International Liaison At-Large and VP of Advocacy for the International Students Union Akhilesh Issur ’17 sees this legislation lining up with the false “tendency to believe that international students ‘steal away’ jobs from the domestic pool of applicants,” especially considering the fact that Optional Practical Training period, which is mainly used to allow students to work in the United States after obtaining their degree, is ineffective after a year in most cases.

“Most international students never end up getting an H-1B at all, and leave the U.S. after their OPT expires, usually after one year,” he said. “It is already very hard for international students to get the H-1B anyway. So I’m unsure how making it even harder will impact future admissions.”

Yet Issur did note that he thought the current political atmosphere could affect the decisions of potential Cornell students.

“I do believe though that the political climate and the sort of anti-immigration will make international students think twice before committing to Cornell,” he said.

According to a Chronicle survey, about one-third of prospective international students are less interested in studying in the United States, and 69 percent of those students attributed that to the current political climate in the country.

Christopher Schott ’18, the incoming Student Assembly International Liaison At-Large, said that Trump’s legislation aids in putting the blame of national problems on foreigners.

“This encourages Americans to blame internationals for their social and economic woes, which is ironic given that brilliant internationals are a driving force behind US innovation (e.g. in technology), which can and has contributed to US economic growth,” he said in an email.

Cornell currently has students from 118 countries. Cornell affiliates most often have F-1 and J-1 Visas. F-1 visa status is the most common visa status used among students in the United States. J-1 visa status is more particular, and used for specific study exchange programs.

For the fall of 2016, Cornell undergraduate students, graduate students and professionals required 4,650 new visas, a majority of which were F-1 visas, according to Cornell’s International Students and Scholars Office.

In accordance with the national trend, Cornell also saw an increase in international student enrollment since 2002, according to a report from the ISSO. Nationally, the numbers went from about 600,000 to over 1 million, and at Cornell they increased from 3,100 to just under 5,000. The most common college for undergraduate international students to be enrolled in is Arts & Sciences and the most common for graduates students is Engineering.

The announcement issued by the Department of Economics about ridding its CPT authorization for international students is an additional hurdle, according to Issur, who implied that the national political scene may be influencing Cornell administration.

“It is interesting to note that even Cornell academic departments seem to be against international students finding jobs,” Issur said. “The administration has been rather unclear on what exactly they did with regards to the CPT, and why they seem to be shifting their attitudes towards it since the Trump election.”

The Sun recently reported that the newly admitted Class of 2021 set a record for the third consecutive year for diversity. Of the total 5,889 applicants, nine percent were international students.

Schott worried that with the anti-immigrant message this new legislation sends as well as the Department of Economics new policy, it might make Cornell a less desirable place for international students looking to pursue higher education.

“International students are the only student group on campus that does not enjoy need-blind admissions,” he said. “International students are the only students who must relentlessly fight for the mere permission to complete summer internships, as was made evident through the economics department’s erratic behavior on CPT authorization. Internationals are the only students barred from applying to many prestigious jobs and internships.”

Schott said that the University continues to restrict opportunities for international students. The University has shifted its policy with international students from need-blind to need-aware admissions, and the Admissions and Financial Aid Working Group has acknowledged the possibility of increasing the amount of international students who do not need any financial aid, The Sun previously reported

“As the leaked documents have shown, the University is considering further steps to disadvantage international applicants who need financial aid,” he added. “I call upon the administration and all students on this campus to stand in solidarity with international students at this time when we are being targeted by both the federal and University administration.”