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Foreign Students Anxious Over Immigration Order

Foreign Students Anxious About New US Immigration Order
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Students applying for student visas and Optional Practical Training say they feel anxious over recent immigration orders.

The U.S. government’s recent executive order to suspend the issuance of Lawful Permanent Resident permits (green cards) has left international students at U.S. colleges and universities uncertain about their enrollment and future plans.

Though the decision does not directly affect student visas, it left open the option to review nonimmigrant programs “within 30 days of the effective date of this proclamation” and could recommend “other measures to stimulate the United States economy” (during the COVID-19 crisis).

Student visas are under the nonimmigrant visa category issued to foreign nationals seeking to enter the United States on a temporary basis.

Athiyah Azeem, a journalism student at the University of Maryland who graduates in May, said she applied for Optional Practical Training (OPT) but is worried her paperwork will not be processed before her visa expires.

“When I apply for jobs, it's very much like putting on my cover letter, ‘You don't have to sponsor me.’ I have work authorization that should be kicking [in] by June 1, just because I'm banking on it,” she told VOA.

OPT legally allows college graduates with student visas to stay in the United States and work in their field of study for up to three years.

Azeem, a former intern at VOA, explained that though the executive order does not affect students like her, it adds to the anxiety.

“I get the news alert that [President Donald] Trump is going to come up with an executive order to temporarily ban immigration, I'm just, like, ‘What do I do? ... Can I stay? What's going to happen?’ ” she said.

According to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the agency responsible for administering the nation's legal immigration system, offices will reopen on June 4, but the USCIS staff has continued to perform duties that do not involve face-to-face contact with the public.

'Absolute unmitigated disaster'

For more than a month, the U.S. government has stopped processing all nonimmigrant visas, flights have been canceled, immigration offices are closed and schools are hosting their classes online.

Rebecca Hamlin, graduate admissions chair at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, said concerns have been ongoing about international students since no one can apply to enter the country, even students already accepted at U.S. institutions.

“We've been having calls about this and conversations about this for the past month, about whether or not the students that we had admitted for fall 2020 are going to be able to come. And so far, we just don't know the answer,” she said.

Hamlin said having an executive order covering nonimmigrant visas is an “absolute unmitigated disaster for higher education in this country.”

The higher education industry in the U.S. faced documented evidence of daunting competition from other countries in 2018 that offer lower tuition, immigration pathways and less controversy for international students.

Online publication Inside Higher Ed reports an estimated 15 percent drop in overall student enrollment in the next academic year, including a 25 percent decline in international student enrollment. The findings could mean a loss of $23 billion in revenue.

The Chronicle of Higher Education reports that even though colleges are taking steps to offset deep revenue losses, universities have furloughed hundreds of employees and announced revenue hits of more than $100 million. Small campuses may suffer the most or not recover at all from the financial challenges of COVID-19.

According to the Institute of International Education’s (IIE) annual Open Doors report, there were 1.1 million international students (5.5 percent of all students) among 19.8 million total students in institutions of higher education in the U.S. for the 2018-19 school year.

China sent the most students — 369,548, or 33.7 percent of all foreign students. India sent 202,014, the second-largest number, or 18.4 percent of all foreign students.

“One of the unfortunate aspects of this is that we can't even offer a remote option for students whose student visa has not been processed in time,” Hamlin said. “Because even though they would not be physically trying to enter the United States, if they were taking classes remotely from their home country, they can't be an officially enrolled student and take classes for a grade until their student visa has been processed.”

After OPT

Azeem said she hopes the work the USCIS staff is doing during the COVID-19 crisis means her OPT application will be finalized by June.

“After OPT, I'm really hoping I will work as much as I can to make sure that I am continually employed under OPT. Then, after gaining work experience, I'm able to apply for an H-1B next year,” she said.

An H-1B visa allows for temporary employment among nonimmigrants. Immigration lawyers say becoming an H-1B holder is a natural progression for international students.

Rosanna Berardi, an immigration lawyer from Buffalo, New York, said most of her clients who applied for H-1B visas were international students.

“They are really going to be shut out, because if you're not able to get an H-1B after your student status expires, you have to return to your home country,” she said.

According to the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), students who are not able to keep their visa status have 60 days to return to their home country.

“Some have been here for six years,” Berardi said. “They did their bachelor's degree and then a master's program. … These are people that I love being in immigration because they're just chasing the American dream. They're doing it lawfully, respectfully. They're paying the government their fees. They're paying their taxes.”

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Survey: Social integration, career prep are important to international students

FILE - FILE - In this March 14, 2019, file photo students walk on the Stanford University campus in Santa Clara, Calif.
FILE - FILE - In this March 14, 2019, file photo students walk on the Stanford University campus in Santa Clara, Calif.

A recent survey of international students in the United States found that before starting school, they were concerned about personal safety, making friends and feeling homesick.

Inside Higher Ed reports that international students want specialized orientations, peer connections, career preparation and job placement to help make their college experiences successful. (July 2024)

US advisory council ends Nigeria visit, signs student exchange deal

Deniece Laurent-Mantey is the executive director of U.S President's Advisory Council on African Diaspora Engagement.
Deniece Laurent-Mantey is the executive director of U.S President's Advisory Council on African Diaspora Engagement.

Members of a U.S. presidential advisory council have approved a student exchange deal between an American college and a Nigerian university as part of the council's effort to strengthen collaboration on education, health, entrepreneurship and development between Africa and Africans living abroad.

The council also visited a health facility supported by the United States Agency for International Development in the capital.

Nigerian authorities and visitors chatted with members of the U.S President's Advisory Council on African Diaspora Engagement as they toured a healthcare facility in Karu, a suburb of Abuja, on the last day of the council's three-day visit to Abuja and Lagos.

The facility is one of many supported by the United States Agency for International Development, or USAID, to improve the management of childhood illnesses, family planning, immunization and delivery.

The tour was part of the council's effort to promote African diaspora-led investments in technology entrepreneurship, education and healthcare delivery.

"They're doing a phenomenal job there, it really gave us a sense of what the healthcare system is in Nigeria," said Deniece Laurent-Mantey, executive director of the advisory council. "This is our first trip as a council to the continent and we chose Nigeria for a reason — the diaspora in Nigeria is very active, very influential, and they're really a source of strength when it comes to our U.S.-Africa policy. And so for us coming to Nigeria was very intentional."

The council was created by President Joe Biden in September to improve collaboration between Africa and its diaspora in terms of economic and social development.

Akila Udoji, manager of the Primary Healthcare Centre of Karu, said officials in Nigeria were pleased that the council members were able to visit.

"We're happy that they have seen what the money they have given to us to work with has been used to do, because they have been able to assist us in capacity-building, trainings, equipment supply and the makeover of the facility," Udoji said.

Earlier, the council signed a deal for a student exchange program between Spelman College in the southern U.S. city of Atlanta and Nigeria's University of Lagos.

Laurent-Mantey said education exchanges are one of the council's top priorities.

"In Lagos, we had the president of Spelman College — she's also a member of our council — she signed an agreement with the University of Lagos to further education exchange programs in STEM and creative industries between those two universities," Laurent-Mantey said. "And I think for us it's very important, because Spelman College is a historically Black university, and so here we are promoting the importance of collaboration between African Americans and Africans."

In March, the advisory council adopted its first set of recommendations for the U.S. president, including the student exchange initiative, advocating for more U.S. government support for Africa, climate-focused initiatives, and improving U.S. visa access for Africans.

The council met with Nigerian health and foreign affairs officials during the visit before leaving the country on Wednesday.

American Academy of the Arts College announces closure

FILE - Signs and writing denouncing the closure of the University of the Arts are seen at Dorrance Hamilton Hall on June 14, 2024, in Philadelphia. More recently, the American Academy of the Arts College in Chicago announced it would close.
FILE - Signs and writing denouncing the closure of the University of the Arts are seen at Dorrance Hamilton Hall on June 14, 2024, in Philadelphia. More recently, the American Academy of the Arts College in Chicago announced it would close.

The American Academy of Art College in Chicago announced it would be closing after 101 years of preparing students for careers in art and illustration.

WTTW news reported that like other art colleges, the academy saw enrollment drop after the pandemic, and officials made the decision to close the college last month. (July 2024)


5 killed, dozens injured in clashes over Bangladesh jobs quota system

Protesters of Bangladesh's quota system for government jobs clash with students who back the ruling Awami League party in Dhaka on July 16, 2024.
Protesters of Bangladesh's quota system for government jobs clash with students who back the ruling Awami League party in Dhaka on July 16, 2024.

At least 5 people were killed and dozens injured in two separate incidents in Bangladesh as violence continued Tuesday on university campuses in the nation's capital and elsewhere over a government jobs quota system, local media reports said quoting officials.

At least three of the dead were students and one was a pedestrian, the media reports said. Another man who died in Dhaka remained unidentified.

The deaths were reported Tuesday after overnight violence at a public university near Bangladesh's capital, Dhaka. The violence involved members of a pro-government student body and other students, when police fired tear gas and charged the protesters with batons during the clashes, which spread at Jahangir Nagar University in Savar, outside Dhaka, according to students and authorities.

Protesters have been demanding an end to a quota reserved for family members of veterans who fought in Bangladesh's war of independence in 1971, which allows them to take up 30% of governmental jobs.

They argue that quota appointments are discriminatory and should be merit-based. Some said the current system benefits groups supporting Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. Some Cabinet ministers criticized the protesters, saying they played on students' emotions.

The Bengali-language Prothom Alo daily newspaper reported that one person died in Dhaka and three others, including a pedestrian, were killed after they suffered injuries during violence in Chattogram, a southeastern district, on Tuesday.

Prothom Alo and other media reports also said that a 22-year-old protester died in the northern district of Rangpur.

Details of the casualties could not be confirmed immediately.

Students clash over the quota system for government jobs in Dhaka, Bangladesh, on July 16, 2024.
Students clash over the quota system for government jobs in Dhaka, Bangladesh, on July 16, 2024.

While job opportunities have expanded in Bangladesh's private sector, many find government jobs stable and lucrative. Each year, some 3,000 such jobs open up to nearly 400,000 graduates.

Hasina said Tuesday that war veterans — commonly known as "freedom fighters" — should receive the highest respect for their sacrifice in 1971 regardless of their current political ideologies.

"Abandoning the dream of their own life, leaving behind their families, parents and everything, they joined the war with whatever they had," she said during an event at her office in Dhaka.

Protesters gathered in front of the university's official residence of the vice chancellor early Tuesday when violence broke out. Demonstrators accused the Bangladesh Chhatra League, a student wing of Hasina's ruling Awami League party, of attacking their "peaceful protests." According to local media reports, police and the ruling party-backed student wing attacked the protesters.

But Abdullahil Kafi, a senior police official, told the country's leading English-language newspaper Daily Star that they fired tear gas and "blank rounds" as protesters attacked the police. He said up to 15 police officers were injured.

More than 50 people were treated at Enam Medical College Hospital near Jahangir Nagar University as the violence continued for hours, said Ali Bin Solaiman, a medical officer of the hospital. He said at least 30 of them suffered pellet wounds.

On Monday, violence also spread at Dhaka University, the country's leading public university, as clashes gripped the campus in the capital. More than 100 students were injured in the clashes, police said.

On Tuesday, protesters blocked railways and some highways across the country, and in Dhaka, they halted traffic in many areas as they vowed to continue demonstrating until the demands were met.

Local media said police forces were spread across the capital to safeguard the peace.

Swapon, a protester and student at Dhaka University who gave only his first name, said they want the "rational reformation of the quota scheme." He said that after studying for six years, if he can't find a job, "it will cause me and my family to suffer."

Protesters say they are apolitical, but leaders of the ruling parties accused the opposition of using the demonstrations for political gains.

A ruling party-backed student activist, who refused to give his name, told The Associated Press that the protesters with the help of "goons" of the opposition's Bangladesh Nationalist Party and Jamaat-e-Islami party vandalized their rooms at the student dormitories near the Curzon Hall of Dhaka University.

The family-of-the-veterans quota system was halted following a court order after mass student protests in 2018. But last month, Bangladesh's High Court nulled the decision to reinstate the system once more, angering scores of students and triggering protests.

Last week, the Supreme Court suspended the High Court's order for four weeks and the chief justice asked protesting students to return to their classes, saying the court would issue a decision in four weeks.

However, the protests have continued daily, halting traffic in Dhaka.

The quota system also reserves government jobs for women, disabled people and ethnic minority groups, but students have protested against only the veterans system.

Hasina maintained power in an election in January that was again boycotted by the country's main opposition party and its allies due to Hasina's refusal to step down and hand over power to a caretaker government to oversee the election.

Her party favors keeping the quota for the families of the 1971 war heroes after her Awami League party, under the leadership of her father, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, led the independence war with the help of India. Rahman was assassinated along with most of his family members in a military coup in 1975.

Police open hazing investigation after Dartmouth student found dead

FILE - A student walks on the campus of Dartmouth College, Tuesday, March 5, 2024, in Hanover, N.H.
FILE - A student walks on the campus of Dartmouth College, Tuesday, March 5, 2024, in Hanover, N.H.

Police have opened a hazing investigation after a Dartmouth College student was found dead in a river in early July.

Police received a tip that hazing was involved, and there was evidence that alcohol might have been involved in the death, USA Today reported. (July 2024)

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