It is November 8th, the day after it’s announced that Democratic candidate Joe Biden has won the election. Electricity and the sense of relief are still in the air, and the cheerful embraces still echo through the campus corridors. As I sit in my sunny dorm room that untroubled Sunday morning, I realize how quickly I have been to dismiss the concerns I had only a couple of hours ago. As an international student, this election was going to determine my decision to continue my studies in the US; after four hefty years under Trump’s presidency, some say international students will finally live to see a day of change. But I am here to peg the question — are we really?
The xenophobic and racist rhetoric, travel bans, and visa restrictions the White House have imposed in the last four years has drastically changed the lives of both current and future college students studying in America. During Trump’s presidency, we witnessed the numbers of international student enrollments plummet. This year alone, the enrollment of new foreign students declined by 43%, introducing a new low many have feared. The decline was affected by the ongoing pandemic, but more so by Trump’s series of obscenely rigorous—and in many cases simply xenophobic—administration policies which have rendered trying to study in the US a nightmare. One of the most troubling policies, the White House has implemented during Trump’s presidency, is his fixed visa stay policy for international students. Earlier this fall, in September, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) proposed a rule that would set fixed terms of two or four years for student visas, and any students who wouldn’t finish their studies in the set time frame would be deported immediately. While Trump still hasn’t passed this new policy, there are still 43 more days in which he can continue to target international students in his war on immigrants.
While Trump’s campaign focused on keeping the conservatives on a leash, Biden embraced a new, more progressive, yet cheeky-grandpa-persona in 2020. During his 2020 presidential campaign, Biden and his team have gone out of their way to push for social change and make it their agenda to implement more progressive policies when in office. Be it because of the surge of progressive, younger Democratic candidates, or because he truly believes in change, is a question for another day. Whatever his motive may be, Biden’s plan has seemingly included the often undermined and disregarded international students studying in the US.
The plan largely encompasses how he will revert the laundry list of Trump’s rigorous restrictions. Without the nullification of those, there are only a few things Biden and his team will be able to do to better the status of foreign graduates. On his first day in office, Biden plans to repeal Trump’s travel ban, which restricts travel and visa issuance in predominantly Muslim countries, through executive order. Additionally, Biden’s campaign has largely focused on the reinstatement of the DACA program, which was created during the Obama administration to protect undocumented Americans who arrived in the states as children. However, Biden does not actually have any set plans that focus solely on the grievances of international students. Experts believe that his handling of international students will mimic that of Obama-era-type policies, with hopefully at least a few commendable alterations, such as more lenient visa restrictions, quicker issuance of F-1 visas, and green cards for graduates.