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Sunday, 19 February 2017 18:00

University officials, students keeping close eye on immigration ban developments

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Illustration by Rachel Harper Illustration by Rachel Harper

As President Donald Trump’s executive order banning immigration from seven predominantly Muslim countries continues to play out in the courts, university administrators and international students in West Michigan say they’re keeping vigilant. 

The reason: They’re concerned the ban, if reinstated, will prevent current students from traveling back home as well as deter new applicants from applying to study in the region.   

If reinstated, the ban will affect seven students and three faculty members at Grand Valley State University, 97 students at Western Michigan University, and 125 at Michigan State University, according to administrators at each of the schools.

Although the ban doesn’t apply to a large number of international students at West Michigan universities, it has put students on edge and, on a larger scale, cast a shadow on higher education nationwide.

For GVSU President Thomas Haas, a vocal proponent for inclusion in higher education, the ban stands in contrast with the university’s goals. GVSU has a long history of encouraging students to study abroad and regularly welcomes students and scholars regardless of their immigration status or their native country. 

“I felt it was in fact going to impact our mission,” Haas told MiBiz in an interview a few days after issuing an official statement on the ban on Jan. 30. 

“Anything that is impacting our mission, I’m going to speak out as a public figure,” he said. “I’m responsible for informing and shaping some policies here at Grand Valley. We will not tolerate any prejudice based on race or religion. We continue to be very student centered. We have to be — that’s the integrity of our university.”

GVSU’s Padnos International Center is working with students who may be affected by the order, and human resources has reached out to faculty and staff members whose visas and work permits may be in question. The biggest uncertainty is around whether or not the people could go back home and return for their studies in the fall, Haas said. 

STATE OF UNCERTAINTY

Trump’s Jan. 27 executive order — which temporarily bars people from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen from entering the United States — has created confusion and concern and spawned court cases and widespread protests. It blocks all refugees for 120 days, and Syrian refugees indefinitely. 

The ban also affects people who are in the country on temporary visas, who would normally be allowed to travel to their home country and re-enter the United States, including students.

On Feb. 9, a three-judge federal appeals panel unanimously refused to reinstate President Trump’s targeted travel ban. Trump tweeted “See you in court,” implying he doesn’t plan to back down on a campaign promise to tighten America’s borders and immigration standards.

According to the Institute of International Education, 17,354 international students from the seven countries had enrolled in American institutions during the 2015-16 school year. More international students continue to apply to and enroll in U.S. graduate institutions, but it’s not at the rapid pace seen in recent years, according to a recent report by the Council of Graduate Schools.

The higher education offered in the United States is a powerful export, and a driver of global talent attraction, which is why Trump’s executive order is cause for concern, officials said.

“It is the preferred higher education system in the world,” said Juan Tavares, director of international admissions and services for Western Michigan University’s Haenicke Institute for Global Education.

GVSU’s Haas agrees federal policy also has larger implications for attracting international talent to the region. 

“Our fundamental role is to support our talent needs for our West Michigan stakeholders,” Haas said. “Part of that is bringing in people from other parts of the world. We are working in a global economy. To have those voices and perspectives will hopefully allow our businesses to reap the benefit of this talent we are producing.” 

‘CHANGES THE GAME’

Tavares believes the ban is likely to make international students think twice about studying in the United States. He helps recruit students from all over the world, including areas that are covered by Trump’s executive order. Close to 8 percent of WMU students are from other countries, so there are economic, social and global ramifications to restricting international access. 

“Absolutely, definitely, no doubt about it,” Tavares said. “And it’s not just from these seven countries.” 

Students now look at the United States with a very different view, he said. 

More than a third (37 percent) of 760 prospective MBA candidates who are non-U.S. citizens say they are less likely to pursue a graduate business degree in the U.S. because of the outcome of last year’s presidential election, according to a survey by the Graduate Management Admission Council.

“It doesn’t matter what universities do, how good we treat our students, how well we make them feel welcome, but when you have these things from the United States government, it changes the game completely,” Tavares said. 

Most of WMU’s students affected by the ban have enrolled to study business and engineering. A dozen students whom the university already has admitted and are ready to come — some as soon as May — remain in limbo as the ban plays out in the courts. 

In early February, the university organized a gathering for the nearly 100 affected students, and only one showed up. There also seems to be a fear of congregating together, Tavares said. 

Besides not being able to leave the country if the ban is reinstated, they are concerned that other benefits will not be given to them under this federal action, he added. For example, international students can apply for certain benefits like work authorization or a driver’s license. Post-graduation, they can stay and work for one year and participate in optional practical training.

The ban hasn’t extended to affect any of these benefits yet, but students tell administrators that they wonder if other restrictions are coming. 

In East Lansing, administrators at Michigan State University will continue to evaluate and admit qualified students who have applied from the countries listed in the executive order, said Jason Cody, senior media communications manager.

He called the situation “very fluid” and said the countries included in the ban are not locations where MSU has recruited actively. The university occasionally has students from these countries, who are residing in a third country, attend presentations. 

The steps to acquire a visa once MSU issues the I-20 — which certifies the eligibility of nonimmigrant students — are in the hands of the federal government, Cody said. He noted there is no restriction on admissions or the issuance of I-20s at this time.

“As for the ability to attract international students in general, I think it’s simply too early to tell,” he said. 

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