Chloe Wayne / Sun Graphic Designer

This year's election has numerous ramifications for international students — even though they don't have a say in the outcome.

November 4, 2020

As Election Remains Uncertain, International Students Express Anxiety Over Results

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As election day results trickled in, international students voiced fear over how the results of the election would shape future immigration policy.

President Donald Trump’s administration has been defined by its aggressive moves to restrict various forms of immigration. In the last six months, it has sought to dramatically curb employment-based immigration and impose new limitations on student visas. Former Vice President Joe Biden, by contrast, has pledged to reverse many of these measures should he win.

As a result, international students said the stakes of the Nov. 3 presidential election were higher than ever. 

“You can feel the norms [against] racism erode in this country, and [normalization of open racism],” said Alejandro Vesga grad, a philosophy Ph.D. candidate from Colombia. 

Vesga said that the Department of Homeland Security’s most recent proposed rule — which restricts F1 and M1 visas used by international students — is akin to “thinly veiled racism” since it targets students of specific background. In September, DHS announced that it planned to limit foreign student visas to two years from students hailing from 50 countries, a group composed disproportionately of African and Middle Eastern nations.  

While students could ostensibly renew their visas after the two-year period, many observers expected that the policy could effectively exclude them from seeking a four-year degree in the U.S. entirely. At Cornell, this could include as many as 200 total undergraduate, graduate and professional students, according to fall 2019 data.

Although DHS claimed that the rule was necessary to “encourage program compliance, reduce fraud and enhance national security,” some students said the measure was just a smokescreen for xenophobic beliefs — reflecting a political climate in which anti-immigration sentiments have become more acceptable.  

“I would say it is a political move to appeal to voters who would love to discriminate against those who do not have strong representation in the United States,” said Andy Shin grad, who is from South Korea. “[It] is practically legal-bullying on a nation-wide scale.”

While protesting and organizing is a commonly used tactic in confronting injustice, international students said they felt that they were being silenced by intimidating policies. 

“[DHS is] now asking for social media profiles. [Which] is an incentive not to share anything because I do not want to lose my visa,” Vesga said.  

More broadly, the seemingly constant trickle of new immigration restrictions — combined with election uncertainty — has left international students feeling on edge.  

“Fear amongst the international student community [is] spreading like a California wild-fire,” Shin said. “I would say the word ‘uncertainty’ describes the life of an international student very well… I fear for my friends and their families.”