International College Students Return to the Valley with Trump, Immigration Fears Top of Mind

On his first trip back to Madrid after November’s election, Miguel Lepoutre’s family itched for details. He recalls one incessant question, in particular: What is it like now that Trump is president?

“Everyone in Europe is just freaking out,” Lepoutre says. “They can’t believe it’s real.”

Lepoutre is an international student at San Jose State University (SJSU), where he is majoring in environmental studies. His grandfather, who grew up during the Franco dictatorship in Spain, worries that his grandson’s new home will undergo the same fate as his country, noting parallels between the new administration and previous fascist regimes.

“He was asking me if I felt a change in people and society in general,” Lepoutre says. “And I told him, ‘Yeah, I really did. People are really angry.’”

His family isn’t the first to identify similarities between the rise of Donald Trump and the regimes of Hitler, Stalin and Franco, and they aren’t the only ones worried about relatives studying abroad in the United States. News of the travel ban, rising hate crimes and last week’s rescission of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) executive order have damaged the country’s reputation as an academic haven.

As the Trump administration calls for the deportation of nearly 800,000 DACA recipients who have studied and worked here most of their lives, it’s no surprise that international students—who only recently arrived in the U.S.—are questioning their own future in this country.

When Trump’s election victory was secured, Steven Lianto was nearing the end of his first semester at SJSU, where he studies electrical engineering. Like hundreds of international students in science, technology engineering and math, he left his home (in Indonesia) to complete a degree in Silicon Valley.

“The day that Trump got elected, my mother texted me like, ‘Hey, are you OK over there? What’s the situation over there? Will your visa get rejected or has any problem happened to you?’” he recalls.

Aside from the initial shock of November’s results, Lianto says, he doesn’t feel personally affected by the new administration. But other students, like Shati Dayatar, expressed deeper concern regarding rising anti-immigration sentiment in the U.S.

Amid reports of airport detainment and deportation, Dayatar has refrained from visiting his home in India for fear he won’t be allowed back into the U.S. “I feel really scared to go back home,” he says. “What if I go back and I’m not allowed to come back to my college?”

Susan Popko, associate provost for international programs at Santa Clara University, says that issues of travel, both within the U.S. and abroad, are a common concern among international students.

“We are trying to make sure we’re informing people accurately of what the impacts are,” Popko says. “Obviously, what was so difficult about the executive orders is that they didn't have any warning, they just happened.”

Miguel Lepoutre

Miguel Lepoutre, an environmental studies major at San Jose State University, says his family has expressed concerns about the American political climate.

Between SCU, SJSU and Stanford University, the South Bay hosts more than 7,500 international students a year. Mirroring national statistics from the Institute of International Education, the majority of these students are in engineering, business, math and computer science fields. Most want to stay and work here after they graduate, but a crackdown on the temporary work visas has opened a rift in career options.

After getting accepted into college, international students are approved for a nonimmigrant visa called F1, which allows them to live in the U.S. as long as they are enrolled full time at an academic institution. Upon completing their academic program, students have 60 days to return to their home country. Those who want to stay in the U.S. can either transfer to a new school, work up to two years under Optional Practical Training (OPT) or apply for an H-1B visa.

After finishing his master’s degree in software engineering, Dayatar plans start a business back home where he can be close to his family, adding that the Indian government has been coming up with new regulations in support of tech startups.

Meanwhile, Trump’s administration has increased scrutiny on the H-1B visa program, which tech companies rely on to fill out their ranks. Computer programmers and software engineers make up the largest bracket of applicants in this hyper-competitive program, and critics fear Trump’s call for a more “extreme vetting” process would further perpetuate the nation’s tech talent shortage.

For international students like Andy Biersack, who dreams of working in Silicon Valley after graduating, the future remains unclear. Biersack moved here from Italy this summer and just started his first semester at SJSU as a software engineering major. After graduating, he hopes to score an internship and work at a local tech company. Maybe Facebook, he says.

It sounds about right—an aspiring engineer coming to the tech capital of the world—but many of his friends weren’t on board with his choice to study in the States.

“Most of my friends were like, ‘No, don’t do it. It’s not the right time, just wait,’” Biersack says.

But by the time the 2016 election results aired on his living room TV in Milan, Biersack had already been accepted to SJSU, his top choice, and he was on the brink of securing a student visa.

“If I quit all this and start back home, I’d have to start from scratch and I don’t want to do that,” he says. “So even though it’s crazy, even though I might not have a shot, I don’t really have a choice because I already completed 75 percent of it before this all happened.”

Despite Trump's promise to put American workers first, Biersack and other international students have faith that good grades and competitive resumes will ultimately land them a dream job.

“I really think it depends on our skill,” Lianto says. “If we are really needed here, then they actually really want us to work here.”

While students continue to put their faith in the tech industry, a recent report from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services proves that political tensions have taken a toll on the valley. For the first time since 2014, the number of H-1B applications fell below 200,000 this year. Employers submitted 199,000 applications for 2018, compared to 236,000 last year.

“That uncertainty, not knowing what their options might be, we feel that could impact enrollment down the road because if they don’t feel the opportunity here in the U.S., they might be looking elsewhere if that’s their goal,” says Rob Mieso, associate vice president of student services at De Anza College. Located in Cupertino, the community college has one of the highest transfer rates in California and hosts about 2,000 international students a year.

In addition to waning opportunities in the workforce, an uptick in hate crimes following Trump’s election has students questioning whether American universities are the safest option. In November, SJSU President Mary Papazian sent out a campus-wide email regarding multiple hate crimes, including one incident in which a Muslim woman was grabbed by her hijab and choked. 

Three months later, two Indian nationals, both engineers, were shot in a bar in Kansas. Pat Harris, director of media relations at SJSU, says that while it’s not unusual for the school to send recruitment teams overseas, the issue of personal safety was even more pronounced when recruiters met with prospective students following the suspected hate crime.

“That was huge for us,” Popko says, referring to the killing of two Indian engineers in February. “At one level, international students bring in massive amounts of dollars. Universities depend on that and if we we’re going to have a dip of 50 percent, that would have a huge impact on the university.

“So universities have to care about this at an economic level and, of course, we have to care about it at a human level.” 

Data compiled by the Association of International Educators (NAFSA) found that more than 1 million international students at U.S. colleges added $32.8 billion to the national economy during the 2015-2016 academic year. Even a slight decline in enrollment from nonresident students, who pay two to three times as much as residents, could heavily impact universities already facing budget cuts.

Growing enrollment and reduced state support have led to the first tuition increase in six years at California State University’s 23 campuses, with the University of California poised to follow suit.

While some colleges have reported a decline in applications from international students,  particularly from the Middle East, interest among international students is steady overall, according to a 2017 IIE survey.

Students who applied for this school year aspired to study at a U.S. college long before Trump’s election. Many of them, like Biersack, will continue on this path despite the recent turn of events.

“I won’t say I’m not scared,” Biersack says. “I am scared, but at the same time I can’t quit school and go back. Of course I’m gonna get my degree and give it a shot.”

26 Comments

  1. Very typical leftwing propaganda, Of course you start the artical off by erasing the lines between Legal Immigrant and
    and Illegal Immigrant as if the was no difference. Then stoke the fire of Fascizum and Nazizum but never Socalizum or Communizum.

    If we weren’t the freest most accepting country in the world, people would be risking their lives to knock down the doors getting here. Trump anti immigrant. He’s married to one!

    Students are welcome here, follow the rules as you pointed out. If you want to become an American, file your papers and get in line, the same way an American would have to to live in your country.

    • Why is it people come here from other countries and refuse to pay the price? It is so simple, become a citizen if you want to stay and learn to speak English. How hard is that to understand? Pretty basic huh? Become a citizen and speak English. It tells you that fact when you enter the US, unless like the majority of people (Mexicans) that hop the fence and refuse to sign the guestbook on the way in.
      Our whole system is life under the Constitution of the United States…….period. We like it here. It appears people here or get here illegally like it too. But the free ride is over that seems to be the motivator is over. We don’t really need to convert to your ideals from your own homelands it is up to you to incorporate yourselves to our laws and way of life. Don’t like it, go home………

  2. Trump’s efforts to:

    — reduce the government’s regulatory effect on industry is the exact opposite of the fascist doctrine.
    — liberate private citizens from government mandated programs is the exact opposite of the fascist doctrine.
    — reduce the individual tax rate is the exact opposite of the fascist doctrine.
    — promote free speech is the exact opposite of the fascist doctrine.
    — defend private property rights is the exact opposite of the fascist doctrine.
    — restore the rule of law and the primacy of the Constitution is the exact opposite of the fascist doctrine.

    Calling Trump a fascist is an indirect but foolproof way of outing yourself as an idiot.

  3. Both the Optional Practical Training (OPT) program and the H-1B visa are vehicles that put US citizens at a great disadvantage and need to be reformed. Here’s why:

    OPT

    OPT amounts to the government offering a $30,000 ($10,000 / yr) incentive to employers for hiring a foreign student instead of a U.S. citizen or permanent resident. This bonus takes the form of the foreign students being exempt from payroll tax (due to their student status, which they technically still have under OPT in spite of having graduated). Why hire Americans, eh?

    Since this tax exemption from payroll tax was pointed out in a lawsuit against DHS, and has been one of the major points raised by critics, DHS was well aware of it. Yet they are refusing to address it or even acknowledge it.

    In contrast to DHS recent statements, in which they openly admitted that they intend OPT as an end-run around the H-1B cap, they now describe OPT in warm and fuzzy terms of “mentoring” (putting the T back into OPT). That raises several questions:

    If the U.S. indeed “needs” the foreign students (DHS’s phrasing on this point verges on desperation) to remedy a STEM labor shortage, why do these students need training? The DHS/industry narrative is that the U.S. lacks sufficient workers with STEM training, while the foreign workers are supposedly already trained. And, if workers with such training are indeed needed, why wont these special mentoring programs be open to Americans? Why just offer them to foreign students? Since DHS admitted that its motivation in OPT is to circumvent the H-1B cap, does that mean that if the cap were high enough to accommodate everyone, these same foreign students wouldn’t need training after all?

    H-1B

    While lobbying Congress for more H-1B visas, industry claims H-1B workers are the “best and brightest”. Come payday, however, they’re entry-level workers.

    The GAO put out a report on the H-1B visa that discusses at some length the fact that the vast majority of H-1B workers are hired into entry-level positions. In fact, most are at “Level I”, which is officially defined by the Dept. of Labor as those who have a “basic understanding of duties and perform routine tasks requiring limited judgment”. Moreover, the GAO found that a mere 6% of H-1B workers are at “Level IV”, which is officially defined by the US Dept. of Labor as those who are “fully competent” [1]. This belies the industry lobbyists’ claims that H-1B workers are hired because they’re experts that can’t be found among the U.S. workforce.

    So this means one of two things: either companies are looking for entry-level workers (in which case, their rhetoric about needing “the best and brightest” is meaningless), or they’re looking for more experienced workers but only paying them at the Level I, entry-level pay scale. In my opinion, companies are using the H-1B visa to engage in legalized age discrimination, as the vast majority of H-1B workers are under the age of 35 [2], especially those at the Level I and Level II categories.

    Any way you slice it, it amounts to H-1B visa abuse, all facilitated and with the blessings of the US government.

    The National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) has never shown a sharp upward trend of Computer Science graduate starting salaries, which would indicate a labor shortage (remember – the vast majority of H-1B visas are granted for computer-related positions). In fact, according to their survey for Fall 2015, starting salaries for CS grads went down by 4% from the prior year. This is particularly interesting in that salaries overall rose 5.2% [3][4].

    References:

    [1] GAO-11-26: H-1B VISA PROGRAM – Reforms Are Needed to Minimize the Risks and Costs of Current Program
    [2] Characteristics of H-1B Specialty Occupation Workers Fiscal Year 2014 Annual Report to Congress October 1, 2013 – September 30, 2014
    [3] NACE Fall 2015 Salary Survey
    [4] NACE Salary Survey – September 2014 Executive Summary

    • Recently I heard Ro Khanna being interviewed by Ronn Owens on KGO. The guy is such a tool of the tech industry. H1B reform will never happen as long as we the people continue to elect “representatives” who don’t represent US. With true representation H1B reform would flow naturally.

      • He was duly elected by South Bay voters & is of course more pro business than his more liberal predecessor. This should come as no surprise as he campaigned as being friendlier to Silicon Valley businesses. Now he’s beholden to his Silicon Valley benefactors,his liberal & moderate supporters & some conservative entrepreneurs as well. He represents those who elected him,just as those with opposing views represent their own constituents. That’s politics ! Even those who elected him don’t agree with him on every issue & he’s certainly not bending over backward to please those who voted for someone else (or worse those who didn’t vote). While the virtues & drawbacks of the H1B program are certainly a matter of debate,only the most myopic would imply that he “he don’t represent US” because his stance on the issue differs from their own. Why don’t you try waving our flag harder while you complain ? It won’t help any,but the thought of angry nationalists furiously waving their flags is laugh out loud funny. Conservatives – tough talking patriots or thin skinned victims ? They may have no sense of humor,but they’re always good for a quick chuckle or a hearty guffaw !

        • > This should come as no surprise as he campaigned as being friendlier to Silicon Valley businesses.

          People (and this is not just directed at Herbal) should ALWAYS keep in mind that being “pro business” is NOT the same as being pro free market.

          It is the free market that is the servant of consumers. It is the free market that induces choices for consumers and drives the price/value equation to benefit consumers.

          Businesses merely respond to the lash of the free market.

          Many business would prefer monopoly over market competition. Many politicians who receive generous contributions from businesses can easily convince themselves to see things the way businesses see them and buy into the notion that back scratching between businesses and politicians is often times not a bad thing.

          Democrats like big donors and are only too eager to provide “constituent services” to businesses and associations that write big checks. No questions asked. Republicans are in the midst of a terrific moral struggle between “crony capitalists (or what Trump calls the “donor class”) and the economic interests of middle class AND working class voters (what pundits sneeringly refer to as “populism”).

          So, the fact that Khanna is “pro business” and pro Silicon Valley should be of only modest comfort to consumers, especially in light of the fact that Silicon Valley is now home to some of the largest “new Age” business monopolies on the planet: Google, Facebook, Apple.

          Herbal is right about Khanna:

          “Now he’s beholden to his Silicon Valley benefactors,”

          And that’s a problem.

          Khanna really needs to be beholden to the free market, to south bay consumers, and to middle class and working class producers.

        • Ok Herb Waxman I’ll ignore the last several deprecatory sentences and respond to the first two thirds of your comment which was actually reasonable. Civil, even.
          Yes. I GET that Ro won because he had a majority. I GET that that he’s more business friendly than Mike Honda was. I GET that that’s politics.
          The point that I’m trying to make is that both of these guys only represented individual constituents to the extent of their inclusion in a special interest group. In Honda’s case individuals who happened to belong to public employee unions and in Khanna’s case individuals who happen to work for tech companies.
          This is WAY different than representing individuals AS individuals.
          Isn’t it the Left that always sneers and scoffs at the Supreme Court’s Citizen’s United ruling in which I opined that “corporations are people”?
          It seems that in your opinion, as long as Democrat Ro Khanna is in power it’s fine to regard corporations as people, since of course he belongs to an ethnic minority and the corporations that HE treats as constituents are “progressive” tech companies that you approve of.
          I dunno. Seems like the epitome of hypocrisy to me Herb.

          • I didn’t vote for that carpetbagger Khanna & I’m certainly not a pro-business Democrat. That being said he’s still a Democrat & can be depended upon to vote the party line on the issues most important to the majority of his constituents. While he didn’t receive my vote,with two Democrats vying for the same Congressional seat it was a win-win situation for Democrats & a lose-lose situation for Republicans. South Bay Republicans are always lose-lose losers nowadays,year in & year out (& that’s not stut-stut stuttering). Better luck in fielding a viable & competitive candidate in 2018,you’ll will certainly need it ! Here’s an idea – find a more liberal Democratic candidate to challenge Khanna in the Primary Election & if he splits the Democrats enough you might just sneak a GOP candidate onto the General Election ballot. A more liberal candidate could certainly count on my vote,because Khanna has done nothing to earn my respect or support & likely never will.

    • Excellent information, Mr. Pundit.

      I don’t recall reading any of this in the Murky News or the Carlos Slim Times or the Jeff Bezos Post.

      Did Donald Trump think up OPT or is it something that invented itself during the Obama regency and that no one noticed?

  4. The original intent of the CSU and UC systems, founded over a century ago, was to see to it that the educational needs of rich kids from other countries be met thus allowing them to get high paying jobs here and drive up the cost of housing so that many long time residents would be priced out and become homeless.
    It’d be a shame to see this grand and noble plan thwarted by President Trump.

    • The “rich kids from other countries” pay 2 to 3 times more than California students & without them our chronically underfunded university system would collapse. In other words they subsidize the tuition of our sons & daughters who would have no schools to attend without them. Of course students could borrow even more money for their own tuition,but graduates (& those who didn’t graduate) are already burdened with billions of dollars of unpaid student loan debt. It takes decades for many of these former students to repay this inordinate debt,preventing them from moving on with their lives (marrying,having children,buying a home,etc.) These bank loans are guaranteed by the federal government,can’t be forgiven through bankruptcy & must be repaid. When the Obama Administration suggested cutting out the middleman (the banks) & loaning the money directly to the students (enabling them to lower the interest rates),pro banking Republicans balked at the idea. The only other viable alternative is to raise everyone’s taxes to close the deficit,giving our higher education system the funding that they need to continue providing an education for future generations. Ironically many of those maligning foreign students attending California’s schools are the same people who complain most vociferously about the taxes that they’re already paying now. Well you can’t have your cake & eat it too ! No rich foreign students or higher taxes ? You can rest assured that when push come to shove these whiners would rather rent a room to a foreign student in their own homes,than pay another penny in taxes. Dirty Harry said “a man’s got to know his limitations”,but getting your priorities in order before shooting off one’s mouth also seems just as prudent to those among us with a college degree. Keep waving that flag !

      • Without the foreign rich kids our higher education system would collapse? Really? Collapse? It wouldn’t adjust? It wouldn’t be forced to live within it’s means? Janet Napolitano wouldn’t settle for 100k less for her pension? Jesus, you really need to cut back on the Koolaid Waxy.
        As for the flag, it seems that you’re the one doing all the waving. You’re obviously very proud of the conformism and political correctness that has swept the nation.
        As for myself I have no flag to wave after ripping mine to shreds over 2 years ago and grinding it into the dirt under the heel of my boot.

        • If by conformism & political correctness you mean the enforcing of equal rights for everyone & demanding that our government maintain the separation of church & state envisioned by our forefathers I’m on board. On the other hand if you’re an advocate of discrimination & intolerance based on the beliefs of all you alt-right conservatives,white nationalists & the hidebound Christian Fundamentalists,then we vehemently disagree. That being said I’d love to see the video of another frustrated & angered Tea Party Republican (you) desecrating Old Glory in a fit of pique ! And where was Rick Monday when we needed him the most ? Now that’s funny !

  5. Both students seem fearful. Maybe both needed to spend more time with their mommy and daddy before venturing into college life.

  6. > International College Students Return to the Valley with Trump, Immigration Fears Top of Mind

    International College Students who want to get their minds off of Trump or immigration fears might want to spend some quality time reading the best seller new book on Amazon:

    “What Happened”, by Hillary Clinton

    The book has an astonishing ninety-five percent five star rating so it must be a really great book.

  7. DACA aside – Foreign students should be scared they are taking spots away from citizens who live here and have a right to our education. Not them. The UC and state systems were built and paid for California for California – Not India, not China. So now my kids can barley afford college and most certainly can’t get in because the spots are not there. Why am I supposed to welcome this? How has this improved my life? It hasn’t. ~Former Liberal, Democrat Tree Hugger You Name it. I’m not buying it any more. 7 billion people want to come here and make life unaffordable for citizens.

    • The truth is that these international students are more admissible to the UC and CSU system than many local students. Why wouldn’t I want to learn among the best and brightest? The truth is that if the U.S. students met the requirements, they’d be admitted more readily than an international student. Don’t be upset because others are smarter than you.

      • What you say may well be true. But that doesn’t change the fact that these universities are State supported and were meant to educate California’s young people. If, for whatever reason they’re not doing that then we have legitimate grounds to ask just who is benefiting and whether our State should be devoting such a large percentage of it’s budget to a system that increasingly is resembling a for-profit corporation.

  8. > You mean he should be more like Mike Honda (other criticisms aside) was,maybe we do agree on something ! – Herb Superb

    Herbal:

    You mean that Mike Honda was a free marketeer?

    I had never noticed.

    The nature of the free market is that “the early bird gets the worm”. I can’t imagine sleepy Mike getting any worm before noon.

  9. While Mike Honda was never one to “get the worm”,but he certainly managed to get your goat on a daily basis ! Getting one’s goat – “to irritate someone;to annoy & arouse someone to anger”. Mike Honda may be gone now,but Ro Khanna already has your goat & he’s just getting started !

  10. > Here’s an idea – find a more liberal Democratic candidate . . .

    Herbal:

    Here’s a great liberal idea that I’m sure you can get behind:

    http://www.npr.org/sections/parallels/2017/09/14/551026492/let-them-eat-rabbit-is-venezuelan-presidents-response-to-food-shortages

    “Let Them Eat Rabbit Is Venezuelan President’s Response To Food Shortages”

    Liccardo needs to establish a San Jose Office of Rabbit Growing.

    The “homeless” can munch on tasty hasenpfeffer in their micro-houses surrounding City Hall..

    I’m not embarrassed to say that this is so huge it could get Liccardo a Nobel Peace Prize. Or at least he could share it with Maduro.

    By the way, is San Jose a “sister-city” with Caracas?

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