Post-SCOTUS Ruling on Travel Ban: Reactions, Uncertainty, and New-found Hope

In the wake of last week's U.S. Supreme Court ruling on the revised travel ban, as one might imagine, the media shifted in high gear, around the world, discussing the implications.

NAFSA and AACRAO have shared their thoughts that the carve-out for international students and scholars as having bona fide relationships with U.S. entities is welcoming news, but the implementation, as with all things immigration-related, leaves much discretion in the hands of the consular officers at embassies and consulates as well as CBP officers at air, sea and land entry ports across the country. There will still be a fair amount of uncertainty out there until the dust settles from this coming fall intake across the country. 

To many overseas, particularly in the Middle East, especially from those affected six countries on the travel ban list, a recent Kuwait Times article spells out the reality on the ground is clearly one of confusion. Even though the "bona fide relationship" exemption to the ban is part of the SCOTUS ruling that can include students admitted to universities as well as those wishing to visit family in the United States, the average citizen of those countries in those situations is put off by the headline of travel ban reinstated.

Without question, the reality on the ground outside the U.S. has been one of extreme uncertainty since President Trump's campaign promises began to show hints of becoming reality. Even before the travel ban ruling came down, there have been a variety of environmental factors and warning signs that pointed to a potential downturn in international student flows. From changes to national scholarship programs in Saudi Arabia & Brazil, to the implementation of new I-20 issuance rules in mid-July 2016 affecting conditionally-admitted students (especially in India and Nepal), to the general unease felt abroad about what the current administration's positions might be, the mega-trends were already pointing to turbulent times ahead. A recent WES analysis of the SEVIS data from the most recent SEVIS By The Numbers report indicates "most indicators point to the conclusion that international enrollments in the U.S. will decrease in the immediate term."

One person interviewed in The Hindu in India commented in a recent article Studying Abroad in Trump-age America that the "situation is improving" after students and parents have been reassured by friends and family members currently in the United States.

This reassurance can certainly be back up by the realities on the ground at U.S. college campuses. Over the last few months, over 250 institutions who have joined the #YouAreWelcomeHere campaign are now backing up their positive messaging with real actions this summer by providing housing, jobs, and support for international students fearful of traveling home during the traditional break. 

But perhaps there is reason to be hopeful. In many ways, academia tends to hyperbole and emotional reactions when core values are threatened. Let's face it, fear of the unknown does that to most people. The National Law Review's article provides a solid, dispassionate analysis of how visas processing should be affected or not by the Supreme Court's order.  As the writer states, the "Court limited its stay to foreign nationals without bona fide relationships to close family members or entities in the United States." As SCOTUS specifically mentioned that students admitted to U.S. colleges and universities have established that bona fide relationship with their admissions letters and I-20/DS-2019 forms.

In the end, the reason for hope for a rebound to more positive, upward future trends comes from a comment in a recent University World News article where Eva Egron-Polak, secretary-general of the International Association of Universities,  noted that “the one population that is idealistic is the students. They have the energy to drive change.”


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