Regardless of political leanings, the election of US President Donald Trump has concerned some observers that the country is becoming less viable as a higher education option for foreign students. In the current media climate of 24/7 coverage, it can be difficult to discern the facts behind the headlines and figure out what really matters. In this article, we will cut through some of that noise and relieve a few anxieties about whether a Trump Administration could impact your US college application. Let’s start with a brief overview of the US international student population by the numbers.
In the 2015-16 academic year, they were a total of 1.04 million international students studying in any capacity in the USA. Nearly 5,000 of them were Singaporean (shiok!). In fact, international student enrollment has been climbing steadily every year for decades. According to the Institute of International Education’s annual Open Doors Report, the 2015-16 academic year marked the highest growth in international enrollments for 35 years. Whatever the headlines, these statistics alone should suggest that the American college system not only promotes but truly depends upon its international diversity. The trend toward globalization in US higher education is a long-term movement with decades of momentum. When considering the impact of the current Trump Administration on your US application, be sure to keep this larger context in mind.
Now down to the hard-and-fast details - how might the Trump Administration affect your US college experience both before you apply and once you arrive? If you’re entering the US as a college student, you will be sponsored by your university to apply for an F-1 Student Visa. The Trump Administration has never suggested that it will restrict or otherwise interfere with the F-1 Visa application process. While F-1 student visas would have been affected by the Travel Ban on citizens of seven Middle Eastern and African countries (listed here), this ban has since been challenged and temporarily overruled in federal US courts. Of course, citizens of all other countries (including all countries in Asia) will be able to continue applying normally through the F-1 visa process. The Trump Administration will likely continue to lobby for some form of travel ban similar to the original, but ultimately will remain accountable to the broader American legal system. All of this means that your application for a full-time, 4-year program will not be impacted.
With regard to work prospects in the US post-graduation, the situation remains slightly less certain. Non-immigrant job applicants (i.e. applicants not in the process of filing for permanent residency) must obtain an H-1B temporary work visa to be employed in the US. The Trump Administration has praised the H-1B program and encouraged highly skilled foreign labour, while also calling for reform of the work visa system. That said, this reform would mostly be directed toward the practice of using H-1B visas to evade paying minimum wage for unskilled jobs rather than restricting skilled labour. Indeed, Trump has repeatedly stated that international students educated in the US should always be able to stay and contribute to the American workforce.
No matter the day’s headlines, the practical reality for international applicants to US colleges remains as it has been for decades - highly positive and encouraging. Nothing has changed legally to restrict student visas or disadvantage their applications, nor is there any evidence to suggest this will happen. Stay optimistic, and keep applying like politics doesn’t matter. Because in many ways, the bigger picture for international students has never looked better.
(Outside of the F-1 Visa, there is also the J-1 Visa which covers short-term academic engagements such as summer programs and exchange. Certain restrictions have been proposed for the J-1, but all mention of these has since been removed from the Trump Administration’s website. Again, regardless of these restrictions, applicants to 4-year undergraduate programs would not be affected. )