After a year and a half of uncertainty — multiple iterations, litigation, questions of discrimination — some certainty was established around the Trump administration’s travel ban this summer. On June 26, 2018, in a 5-4 ruling, the Supreme Court upheld the third version of the plan, which affects Iran, Syria, Yemen, Libya, Somalia, North Korea and Venezuela.
Among those closely watching the decision was a team from the University of Minnesota. Over the last dozen years, the number of international students enrolled at the U has more than doubled, and today, the school hosts 6,577 international students from over 100 countries — including 107 from countries affected by the ban.
Which is why, in the wake of the first iteration of the executive order, the U formed the Immigration Response Team, a group of staffers tasked with helping students, staff and faculty navigate not only the consequences of the ban, but the seeming constant changes to federal immigration policies, said Marissa Hill-Dongre, who directs the team.
The restrictions vary from country to country and there are case-by-case exemptions allowing some people to still get visas to travel to the U.S. Students from Iran, for example, who make up the largest group of students from the affected countries at the U, are still are allowed.
Which doesn’t mean the process of getting a visa to study in the U.S. is easy. At the U of M, some departments have struggled to bring Iranian students accepted into their programs. In fact, according to Hill-Dongre, even students who apply for visas with all the proper paperwork months in advance “end up not being able to come and start their program because they just had no answer on their visa application. And there’s unfortunately really nothing that the university can do to urge the Department of State to make a decision more quickly.”
One of the biggest concerns for those affected by the ban is the possibility of being denied reentry to the U.S. after conducting research, attending conferences or see friends and family. “In the past sometimes their family members were able to get visitor visas to come and visit them while they were here and that’s not possible anymore under the ban,” said Hill-Dongre.
Almost all of the U’s large population of Somali students, for example, are citizens, permanent residents or refugees, and are not affected by the ban personally. They could, however, be prevented from easily traveling to Somalia or having friends or family visit them in the U.S.
Anxiety about the policy has affected the U’s ability to woo students, even among those in countries not currently affected by the ban. Dr. Barbara Kappler, Assistant Dean and Director of International Student and Scholar Services (ISSS), said that prospective students from Indonesia, where a team recruiting international undergraduates for the U made a trip this year, were worried about their ability to travel between the U.S. and their home country over the next few years. “The impact of the ban is just this uncertainty about what the United States will do,” said Kappler.
That uncertainty has been reflected in enrollment.
As it is across the U.S., international student enrollment is dropping at the U. This year, there there were approximately 300 fewer incoming international students than in the fall of 2017.
And it’s likely to go lower. According to Kappler, many of the international students enrolling now were already fairly committed to their decision to come to the U.S., but convincing younger students is expected to prove more difficult, especially as programs in other English speaking countries like Canada, the U.K. and Australia, lure international students away from the U.S.