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No Presidential Limits to International Student Work Program, For Now

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When President Trump signed an order suspending the issuance of temporary work visas through the end of this year, something was absent: The measure did not, as had long been rumored, limit optional practical training, the popular work program for international students.

Time for international students and American colleges to breathe a collective sigh of relief, right? It might not be wise to breathe too deeply. The Trump administration is apparently still considering restrictions on OPT, to be enacted through the rulemaking process, according to higher ed, business, and legal sources I’ve spoken to over the past week.

In a way this makes sense. OPT was always a bit of an odd fit for the executive order — although the program allows recent graduates to work, there is no “OPT visa” so the fix was never the same as for the rest. And because OPT is in regulation, it couldn’t be unilaterally undone by presidential proclamation.

But new rules can supplant old, and the administration appears to be working on draft regulations that would roll back STEM OPT, which allows STEM graduates to work for up to three years after graduation. Paul Hughes, co-director of the Supreme Court Advocacy Clinic at Yale, told a recent webinar organized by the Presidents’ Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration that officials could try to enact the rule as a interim final regulation to bypass the normal comment process and put it in effect immediately.

Many students remain on edge. “I want to be relieved,” one student told me, “but you never know what could be coming.”

Although OPT was, at least momentarily, spared, higher ed was far from unscathed by the executive order. The measure suspended H1-B skilled employment visas, which universities use to hire top academics and researchers, regardless of nationality, and which are a powerful recruitment tool for international students. Expecting a new foreign-national faculty member to start teaching this fall? If the professor isn’t now in the U.S. or doesn’t already have a valid visa, your college may be out of luck. (The order also suspended some J-1 exchange visas, but researchers and scholars, such as Fulbrighters, are not affected.)

While the executive order grabbed headlines, it doesn’t take a presidential proclamation to disrupt student mobility. Consider a few outstanding issues that could affect international students’ ability to study in the U.S. this fall:

  • It’s unclear whether the Department of Homeland Security will relax restrictions on international students enrolling in online and distance education. Officials allowed for flexibility this spring, but the current guidance extends only through summer. One question I hear a lot: What happens to international students who stayed in the U.S. if most, but not all, of a college’s classes remain online?
  • Globally, many U.S. consulates are still closed. Some are scheduling visa appointments that turn out to be phantoms, canceled as the date draws near. Without an expedited process for approving student visas, new international students simply may not be able to get the proper documents in time for fall. Additional wrinkles: country-by-country travel bans and limited international flights.
  • Back to OPT, the agency that issues work authorizations is running out of money. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which is largely supported by fees on visa and citizenship applications, could be forced to furlough three-quarters of its employees without congressional intervention.

What other outstanding student-visa issues are you keeping an eye on? Do you have other ideas for other issues I should be covering? I welcome your feedback at latitudesnews@gmail.com.

Coffee Hour: International Students & Race

The killing of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter protests that followed have captured headlines across the country, and around the world. How are these events viewed by international students, who may have an incomplete understanding of America’s history with race and a different concept of racial identity based on their home culture? For some students, coming to the U.S. is the first time they are seen as “black” or “brown” or “Asian.”

Join me for the latest latitude(s) coffee hour Wednesday, July 1, at 2 p.m. ET.

I’ll be joined by Ivonne M. García, chief diversity, equity, and inclusion officer at The College of Wooster, as well as a current international student. We’ll discuss how colleges should talk with international students about race and the best practices for integrating multicultural and social-justice education into programming for students from overseas.

I hope you’ll join us on Wednesday, July 1, at 2 p.m. ET. Sign up here. Bring your questions, your comments, and your beverage of choice!

What’s in a Name?

A professor at Laney College in California was placed on leave after he demanded that a Vietnamese-American student “Anglicize” her name, telling her that her given name “is an offensive sound in my language.” Instead, the student, Phuc Bui Diem Nguyen, said she would file a complaint with the community college’s Title IX office.

Adopting an English name has long been a common practice among international students, although a Fordham University survey of Chinese students found that most would have preferred to use their given name, if only their American professors and classmates could pronounce it. I asked international students on social media what they made of the California case and of the practice in general. A few responses:

  • Fortunately, I’ve only had people distorting my name but being slightly apologetic about it. I’m pretty sure I do the same to names of my students!
  • It was annoying the first couple of years. Then I just got used to it.
  • I thought it was fun to create my own name. It was like having an alter ego!
  • Having a “regular American name” makes me feel like I fit in here.
  • Sometimes American people pronounce my name so wrong that I don’t even understand that’s what they’re saying. And it’s my name!

Jialing Wang, a graduate student and research technologist at Penn State, told me about a formative experience she had when she first came to the U.S. from China. “You can call me Jane,” she told her classmates during a round of introductions. Her professor interrupted, saying it was their responsibility to get Jialing’s name right and asked her how to pronounce it. “I felt respected,” Jialing said.

Penn State offers a workshop on how to pronounce international names, which Jialing praises. She tries hard to get students’ and colleagues’ names right but doesn’t sweat it if others emphasize the wrong syllable in hers or pronounce her last name like it rhymes with “fang.” For her, sticking with her given name feels like holding onto a piece of her culture.

The only place she now goes by Jane? Starbucks and other fast-food restaurants.

Around the Globe

The U.S. Department of Education unveiled a new online portal for universities to report foreign contracts and gifts.

Australian universities are startled by the sweep of a new national higher education integrity unit. Part of the country’s higher-education regulator, it is supposed to address “emerging threats” to academic and research integrity, cybersecurity, and admission standards.

International students are accusing the University of Kansas of “exploiting and alienating” them after the university nearly doubled the international-student fee.

With covid stranding flights, some universities may charter airplanes to bring international students back to campus.

British universities will charge EU students higher international tuition rates beginning in fall 2021.

Universities in Belgium will not prohibit students from wearing headscarves, even though the country’s constitutional court ruled that higher-ed institutions could enact such a ban.

Students from Pakistan’s Punjab province must study the Quran to earn a degree.

Brown University has named the inaugural chair of Palestinian studies.

A South African lawyer is threatening to sue if universities that had ended classes during the coronavirus outbreak don’t immediately reopen.

Despite a resurgence of the coronavirus, China won’t delay the gao kao, the national university-entrance examination.

A Chinese professor has been fired after she posted comments online that sympathized with Hong Kong pro-democracy protesters. The LA Times looks at China’s crackdown on professors who speak out.

And finally…

When covid struck, Jess Francis, a recent NYU graduate, found herself alone in New York, after her roommates and friends moved back in with their parents. Even if Jess could have scrounged up thousands of dollars to fly home to Hong Kong, she was awaiting her OPT extension and didn’t dare leave. “I’ve had anxious days and low moments,” she told me a few weeks ago, her apprehension heightened by the growing uncertainty about her hometown’s future. Now she’s put her thoughts down in this sharp, funny, poignant essay.

’Til next week — Karin

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