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What Trump’s Executive Orders Mean for International Study

11th February 2017 Posted by: Francesca Turauskis

MOST of us alive today have never seen global politics change so swiftly. It seems like each day, thousands of people’s lives are changed in the time it takes to sign a signature, lower a gavel – or send a tweet. This is especially true of Donald Trump's presidency.

The USA has the highest intake of international students in the world (some 975,000 in 2014-15, which accounts for 19% of all international study) and American higher education has always been a place of opportunity. Some of you will have been considering America as a study destination. But given that 60% of international students said would be less inclined to study in Trump’s America, it is likely a lot of you are reconsidering.

With college deadlines for Fall 2017 fast approaching for many universities, we thought it would be a good time to catch up on Trump’s Executive Orders so far, and have a look at how they will affect international study in America.

What are Executive Orders?

One of the reasons there have been big changes since Trump became president is the amount of Executive Orders he has signed. Executive Orders (EOs) are legally binding orders that bypass Congress, and are therefore enacted much more quickly. They cannot change or write new laws, but rather enforce (and sometimes extend) established laws or policies.

Obama signed 168 Executive Orders in eight years (an average of less than two a month). Trump has signed 10 in the first three weeks (is it only three weeks?!) of his presidency. But which are the main ones international students should worry about?

Executive Order #1 – Undo Obamacare

What is it? An order to interpret the legislation of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) loosely to ‘limit economic burden’, pending repeal.

What’s there to worry about? This order was talked about a lot, but for most international students, there is nothing to worry about at the moment. The first EO was meant to undermine the ACC (more commonly known as Obamacare) and many people reliant on the act for affordable healthcare are concerned. However, it was not applicable to many international students, except for those who have been in the US for more than 5 years.

What has happened so far? Initially, there is less enforcement of payments so people won’t be penalised if they don’t pay. However, the act is likely to be repealed entirely at a later date through congress, so healthcare cost may go back to private health insurance. If you have been studying or working in America for more than 5 years and have a healthcare plan, it is essential to check you are still covered, especially if you have a long-term illness.

Executive Order #3 – Enforce ‘The Wall’

What is it? Start the process of building a wall along the US-Mexico border, and employ more border control agents. It also threatens to cut funding to ‘sanctuary cities’ – cities that refuse to turn over undocumented immigrants to federal control.

Why should we worry? Again, this does not directly affect most international students. However, the symbolism of building a wall between the two countries has been one of the main divisive points of the Trump campaign – 79.8% of Mexican students said they would be less likely to study in America if Trump were elected, and this is a big reason why.

What’s happened so far? It’s reassuring to see there has been strong opposition amongst the HE community, with campus protests, and pastoral support for students. Likewise, some of the ‘sanctuary cities’ referred to have already started to contest the threatened funding withdrawal. San Francisco was the first city to file a lawsuit challenging this part of the order.

As to the wall itself, no bricks have been laid yet. It is still unclear where the funding for the wall would come from: Mexico’s treasury secretary, Luis Videgaray, has reiterated on several occasions that “Mexico, under no circumstances is going to pay for the wall.” It is most likely to be the US congress that foots the bill – if it happens.

Executive Order #4 – Local Law Can Enforce Immigration Law

What is it? An extension of EO #3, this order prioritises some undocumented immigrants with a view to deport them. It allows state and local police officers to enforce immigration on a local level. This is also the EO that suggests the government create a list of crimes committed by undocumented immigrants. 

Why should we worry? This second order is somewhat overshadowed by The Wall, but is perhaps more worrying as it focuses on people already living, working and learning in the US. There are 800,000 students studying in the US under the deferred action for childhood arrivals (DACA) scheme, who are technically undocumented but known to the authorities. It is still unclear at the moment if these students will be affected by this ‘crack-down’ on undocumented immigrants.  

Meanwhile, the idea of state and local law enforcement performing the duties of immigration officers is likely to be worrying to all immigrant communities. Immigration law is very complex, and it is likely to be complicated further by having local forces, rather than specialists, interpreting it. This type of order suggests that whether someone is allowed to be in the country or not, they are more likely to be asked to prove they are legal and show documents on demand.

The idea of the list seems purely to make the public see the ‘bad things’ a minority of undocumented immigrants do, and again makes many international communities uneasy.

What has happened so far? Some universities, such as the University of Michigan, have stated that they are not going to be volunteering information about their students’ immigration status, but there is fear that the government may implement law to force them to do just that. A bill has been put forth in the New York State Senate that would, if passed, require schools and colleges in New York State to share statistical data about their students – although not personal information such as names.  

Executive Order #5 – Blocked Borders

What is it? Extreme vetting and suspension of travel from seven countries – Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen – with immediate effect, for 90-days. All citizens of these countries were affected, regardless of visa or green-card status. It also halts refugee entry.

Why should we worry? You might be wondering how Trump could have done this, as executive orders can only enforce laws – by citing ‘terrorism’ Trump tried to utilise the power that a president has to suspend travel if there is a significant threat to travellers or citizens. There was no evidence to support this, and this 'crying terror' like a kid cries wolf is worrying.

This order directly affected more than 23,000 international students in America who hail from the countries on the list. This makes their futures in America extremely murky, and both students and staff have been advised not to leave the country in case they are not allowed back in. Some that were out of the country at the time the order was passed were stopped from boarding flights to America, or refused entry when they arrived.

Now, there is a restraining order from court lifting the travel ban, but this action leaves many students of all nationalities feeling vulnerable. Undoubtedly, it will also lead to a decrease in students from these, and other countries, applying to American institutions for future study.

Even if this EO is stopped completely, the long-term effect this will have on international relations is concerning. Relations between US colleges and universities in these countries are extremely uncertain – exchange programmes and joint research programmes may be under threat.  

What has happened so far? The travel ban is unlawful. The USA's Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 says that nobody should be "discriminated against in the issuance of an immigrant visa because of the person's race, sex, nationality, place of birth or place of residence" which prohibits a blanket ban of certain nations.

On 3rd February, a Washington state district judge suspended the travel ban and on the 9th of February, the court of appeals refused to allow the ban as there was no evidence that the countries in question, or their citizens, posed a threat to travellers or American citizens. Given Trump’s ‘SEE YOU IN COURT’ tweet, it might well be taken to the Supreme Court. There are also currently about 20 lawsuits brought up against the government and Trump for this travel ban.   

What else do we need to know?

There are Executive Orders from Trump that are not as connected to international study but are perhaps just as worrying on a bigger scale. It is a good idea to keep an eye on his orders as they are announced. But EOs will be just one aspect of a Trump presidency. Whether it’s the staff he hires, the bills put to congress, or the way he handles international relations, many things are going to change in Trump’s America. International study is certainly going to be one of them.

Whilst Trump once tweeted about the benefits of having international students in America, he seems to be ignorant to the fact that international students actually come from countries he is deriding. International study in America is certainly becoming a less appealing option – and everyone will be the worse for it, including America.

Want to know more? Read our article about what a Trump presidency could mean for international study. 


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