In 2019, immigration advocates expect that higher education institutions will be at the forefront of US immigration policy debates.
From the uncertainty around the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program to the Trump administration’s new planned changes for student visas and work authorization programs, educators say they’re concerned about how immigration policy will ultimately impact immigrant students at US universities.
“We all feel very much the need to support our Dreamers, our international students and scholars in these very uncertain times,” said Rutgers University chancellor Nancy Cantor, who co-chairs the Presidents’ Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration, a national policy-making group that supports immigrant students. “These are significant contributors to the higher ed ecology. The laws, the changing ones, are very complicated.”
Deferred Action For Childhood Arrivals (DACA)
There are two prongs to watch when it comes to the DACA program: the courts and Congress. DACA’s future hinges on either a ruling by the Supreme Court or congressional legislation.
The program, created by the Obama administration, provides deportation protections and work authorization for young people who were brought to the US illegally as children. The Trump administration announced in September 2017 that it would end the program, but multiple lawsuits have kept it alive through injunctions. DACA renewals are currently allowed, but no new applications are being processed. An estimated 40 percent of the approximately 700,000 people with DACA status are students.
Before the 9th Circuit of Appeals upheld the California ruling in November, the Department of Justice had requested the Supreme Court to take up the Regents case and two other cases related to the end of DACA. If that request is granted, a Supreme Court ruling on the lawfulness of the Trump administration’s termination of DACA would come by the end of June.
At the same time, Congressional legislation that would give DACA recipients more stability remains elusive. Lawmakers’ efforts to pass bills that would provide “Dreamers” — the name for undocumented youth that comes from legislation that never became law — a path toward citizenship, have failed. It’s unclear whether a new Democratic majority in the House of Representatives could succeed on that front.
“Until there is a legislative solution, there’s not going to be an answer to the uncertainty,” says Josh Rosenthal, a staff attorney with the National Immigration Law Center.
Aside from DACA, advocates for undocumented students say they are also keeping an eye on state-level legislation that could support undocumented students, such as granting them in-state tuition and allowing them to obtain driver’s licenses and professional licensing.
Visa rule changes for foreign and international students
Similar to 2017, new enrollments for international students at US universities dropped in 2018. Educators say new rules for student visas and planned restrictions to foreign worker visas could contribute to a continued decline this year.
Last summer, US Citizenship and Immigration Services announced changes to how it counts “unlawful presence,” or when someone is not authorized to be in the US for F, J and M non-immigrant visas — which are commonly held by international students.
Dozens of universities signed a legal document known as an amicus brief in support of a lawsuit against the US Department of Homeland Security calling for a temporary hold on the changes.
Work authorization/H-1B/STEM and OPT
Visa programs that allow international students to work in the US after they finish their studies could face further challenges and restrictions in 2019.
The Trump administration already issued restrictions to the type of workplaces that could qualify for Optional Practical Training, which gives work authorization to foreign students and STEM OPT Extension, which adds an additional 24 months of work authorization for those working in science, technology, engineering and math.
It has also said it would restrict who is eligible for the H-1B visa and the type of companies would be allowed to hire foreign workers under this program. H-1B visas are one of the only avenues for international students to work in the US long-term. Finally, the administration is rescinding work authorization for H-4 visa holders, who are spouses of those with H-1B visas.
Educators say these changes could further deter international students from wanting to come to the US because they and their spouses would have a more difficult time finding work.
“The reason why higher education in the US has done so brilliantly, is because of our openness to the world, our focus on equity and access,” says Miriam Feldblum, co-founder and executive director of the President’s Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration. “That’s the key core mission of higher education: to ensure individuals are nurtured and able to unleash their talent to the world.”