YouAreNotWelcomeHere edition

For some international students, it won’t be back to school

A Spate of Visa Revocations

A Palestinian teenager about to start classes at Harvard was detained for hours after landing in Boston and then deported, reportedly because of his friends’ social-media posts. Nine returning Chinese undergraduates at Arizona State had their visas revoked; the university says it doesn’t know why. The Chinese Internet has been roiled by the story of a student who was allegedly denied admission to the U.S. by customs officials in Detroit after they found a bulletproof vest in his luggage. And an administrator tells me that two of her students, both from China, were turned around at LAX after border officers searched their phones and pressured them to admit that they had cheated academically.

This spate of visa revocations is feeding concern that the government, through policy and practice, is making it more difficult for international students to come and study on American campuses. 

I want to say up front that, yes, a government gets to decide who it does and does not admit to its shores – something I remind myself each time I apply for a visa to report overseas. But with all of these cases, what’s hard to understand is why. The reasons given seem flimsy – friends’ social-media posts? – and the responses disproportionate. 

Another administrator shared a case with me of a student who was sent home after a search of chat transcripts on his phone revealed that he had paid another student $20 to do an assignment. Homeland Security officials can now create fake social-media profiles to monitor visa applicants and others seeking to enter the country, PBS reports. Some officers have flagged as suspicious things that are standard. In yet another case, two students flying into San Francisco were questioned at length about why they did not have new SEVIS ID numbers when they were starting new programs; when students already in the U.S. transfer or move from one level of study to another, they typically retain the same ID in the student-visa system. The students were eventually admitted, this school official said, but they were shaken.

As an immigration attorney told my colleague Liam Knox:

“The trend is delay, deny, discourage. Before, there were certain flags. But these days, it's a little bit of a Magic Eight Ball. It's not really clear what a red flag might be anymore.”

Still, these cases of visa revocations are just a blip among the many, many international students who have entered the country in the last few weeks without incident. But part of the problem, as longtime international educator William Gertz pointed out on Twitter, is that we really have no idea of the scope of it:

Without transparency, perceptions carry the day. Even as colleges try to send the message to students that they are welcome here, high-profile episodes like these convey something very different – that they are not.

So, what can colleges do? Prepare students for the screening process is what I heard overwhelmingly from you. I asked Adam Julian, director of international student and scholar services and outreach at Appalachian State University, for a few tips:

  • Give students an info sheet with advice. Julian tells students to always put visa documents in carry-on luggage and suggests that they take copies of transcripts or contracts as an added precaution. 

  • Remind students that secondary inspection for international students and scholars is common and nothing to be alarmed by.  

  • Provide students with after-hours contact information. He also gives the campus police dispatch his cell phone number in case of emergencies. 

  • Communicate in the remarks fields in SEVIS if anything in a student or scholar's immigration history or status is complicated. Customs officers can review the remarks fields at the port of entry and so he puts information in there – such as details about transfers to another college, changes of level, or multiple SEVIS IDs – that might make things more clear. 

These steps won’t prevent students from being stopped, but, Julian said, they can “ameliorate some of the stress and anxiety.”

How should colleges respond to ongoing issues around international students and student visas? Tell me what you think. You can find me on Twitter and LinkedIn.

A New Model for Global Engagement?

For years – pretty much since I started writing about this stuff – people have been telling me that distance education was going to disrupt higher education globally. I’d come to largely dismiss such predictions.

Still, I took note of the announcement of a new partnership between Arizona State, which has a robust online arm, and other veterans of distance education. Cintana Education will help foreign universities grow both campus-based and online programming. Participating universities will part of a network that will offer coordinated academic programs and allow students to earn degrees across institutions. 

For now, I have more questions than answers – How much of the offerings will be homegrown vs exported ASU content? What will be the balance between bricks and mortar and distance ed? How will Cintana overcome the stigma that online learning retains in many parts of the world? – but I plan to write more about this effort in the coming weeks. In the meantime, share your thoughts and insights with me. Do you think this new partnership will be a game changer?

Around the Globe

Prompted by a Department of Justice antitrust investigation, the National Association for College Admission Counseling may remove provisions from its code of ethics. Though none of the items are specific to international students, they’ll doubtless affect overseas recruitment.

Australia has formed a task force to tackle concerns about foreign governments' meddling in the country's universities.

Huawei sharply increased its research spending at the University of California at Berkeley just before the university cut ties with the Chinese telecomm giant.

The Association of African Universities will open a Washington office to help promote academic collaborations with American institutions.

Alumni of the Scholar Rescue Fund, which matches threatened scholars with academic appointments, engage more with their communities post-fellowship.

Students at private vocational schools in China may find themselves enrolled in majors that don’t actually exist.

A group that seeks to limit immigration has released a report calling policy toward international students a “material weak point in U.S. national security.” The government should limit student visas, the Center for Immigration Studies argues.

“Ironically, what the FBI apparently considers our great vulnerability is, in my view, our greatest strength.” Lee C. Bollinger, the president of Columbia, defends higher education’s openness to foreign-born students and scholars in the Washington Post.

And finally…

One of the (many) things that helped fuel the current Chinese student boom was that parents and grandparents tapped their combined savings to send their only children abroad. But the new generation of young Chinese isn’t nearly as frugal as their predecessors. In fact, they’ve become American-style consumers, the Wall Street Journal reports.

’Til next week – Karin

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