June 9th, 2016
Having just returned from the NAFSA Conference in Denver, Colorado, the world’s largest convergence of international educators one had the sense of a shared mission toward global understanding and appreciation of student exchange, building bridges and partnerships that support study abroad and mobility of students. It was difficult to imagine that outside the convention center, somewhere on the presidential campaign trail, the sentiment expressed by the Republican nominee, Donald J. Trump, as shared by his supporters was anything but similar or likeminded. In fact, Mr. Trump’s position on international students is quite the opposite; it’s more about burning bridges and giving everyone outside our borders the middle finger.
Things weren’t so anti-international student with Mr. Trump a year ago. In fact, back in August 2015, according to an article in Inside Higher Education, Mr. Trump had expressed his support for international students, who are here in the U.S. legally on student visas. He supported the program which allows the international students to remain in the country after graduation for an extended period in order to work. Here is what he tweeted about his feelings on this subject last year:
“When foreigners attend our great colleges and want to stay in the U.S., they should not be thrown out of our country.”
“I want talented people to come into this country — to work hard and to become citizens. Silicon Valley needs engineers, etc.”
Though his tweets of 2015 may be heartening and in line with my fellow NAFSAns, Mr. Trump’s support for international students has waivered and completely changed as evidenced by his new position on the subject. According to a March 2016 report by the Chicago Tribune: “If elected president, Donald Trump has pledged to scrap a work visa program that brings 300,000 student workers each year to the U.S. Among the businesses that would be forced to stop hiring foreign labor: Trump’s own.” This pretty much goes against his 2015 tweet of “I want talented people to come into this country–to work hard and to become citizens.”
Obviously the anti-immigrant and international student rhetoric has been heard loud and clear around the world. The U.S., once the beacon of higher education, is being looked at with ambivalence by those seeking to study here if Mr. Trump is the next President. According to a recent article in The Chronicle of Higher Education: “Sixty percent of prospective international students say they would be less likely to study at an American college if Donald J. Trump was elected president.”
Since we are living in a capitalist market economy, and Mr. Trump is all about helping the average American have a slice of the proverbial pie, it’s worth noting that before we toss the international students out with the baby and the bathwater, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce as reported by the Institute of International Education (IIE): “International students contributed more than $30.5 billion to the U.S. economy.” Let me repeat this number: $30.5 BILLION! That’s not some small chunk of change my friends, but a hefty sum of economic windfall which means that not only do our schools and colleges benefit, but so do all the services in the periphery. Think about the students who need to rent apartments and furniture, buy cars, purchase insurance, shop for clothes and school supplies, eat at restaurants, buy tickets to shows, concerts, movies, train/airplane/bus/metro, buy groceries, and the list goes on. Think about all the Americans this economic windfall helps by keeping them off the unemployment line and the government subsidies since they’ll have jobs. Why would a Presidential candidate want to put already employed people out of work? That’s what will happen if we turn away people from our land who want to come here to study. It doesn’t make sense, does it? And guess what friends, while we wallow in self pity and blame the “other” for whatever economic straits we find ourselves in and close borders and build walls, our counterparts in the UK, Canada, Australia, Germany, Scandinavia, Russia and even China and a slew of other countries which are offering degree programs in English and tempt internationals with free tuition are salivating at the bits to grab hold of the international student market which until now has favored the U.S. as its number one destination.
It is so painfully shortsighted to think the way Mr. Trump and his supporters are thinking. If I nod my head in bewilderment at the sheer idiocy of this mindset, I’ll soon have to resort to using a neck brace. Best way to end this rant is with an old saying ‘don’t bite the hand that feeds you,’ or, how about another old favorite: ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!’