Proposed Change to Public Charge Ground of Inadmissibility

Yet Another Obstacle in the Path of Obtaining a US Student Visa?  

obstacle

Sadly, YES, if this proposal becomes law.  From the horse’s mouth:  

Section 212(a)(4) of the INA: Any alien who, in the opinion of the consular officer at the time of application for a visa, or in the opinion of the Attorney General at the time of application for admission or adjustment of status, is likely at any time to become a public charge is inadmissible[…] In determining whether an alien is excludable under this paragraph, the consular officer or the Attorney General shall at a minimum consider the alien’s-(I) age; (II) health; (III) family status; (IV) assets, resources, and financial status; and (V) education and skills . . . .

As Fragomen pointed out in its analysis of this proposed regulation, If finalized in its current form, the rule would require foreign nationals submitting an application for adjustment of status, a visa or a change or extension of nonimmigrant status to establish that they are financially self-sufficient.

If you’re up to it, here’s the full-length version (PDF) published in the Federal Register, a publication I once had to scan back in the day because it was part of my job.  

While I thought this would be covered by the second criterion in the student visa process, namely, ability to pay, this rule sets the bar even higher and gives consular officers the world over yet another reason to just say no.  (This time we’re talking about student visas not drugs a la Nancy Reagan.)  

According to Ware Immigration, any of the following factors could become a “negative factor” that convinces DHS you are likely to become a public charge:

  • Prior or current use of certain public benefits including:  receipt of benefits for U.S. citizen dependent children who are eligible to receive them.
  • Receiving public benefits for more than 12 cumulative months during a 36-month period.
  • Being older than 61.
  • Being younger than 18.
  • Having any medical condition that could interfere with school or work.
  • Having insufficient resources to cover debilitating medical conditions.
  • Not having private health insurance.
  • Having several children or other dependents.
  • Having financial liabilities.
  • Having “bad credit” or a low credit score.
  • Having no employment history.
  • Not having a high school diploma or higher education.
  • Not having “adequate education and skills” to hold a job.
  • Not speaking English.
  • Receiving an application fee waiver from DHS.
  • Having a sworn financial sponsor whom DHS feels is “unlikely” to follow through.

This is not good news for a country already experiencing declining international enrollments for a host of social, political, and economic reasons, as well as push and pull factors related to other leading host countries.  Add this to a long list of negatives.  The perfect storm, indeed.  

The “glass half-empty” part of me sometimes wonders why the Trump Administration doesn’t just cut to the chase and hang out a sign, digital and offline, that says International Students (and Other Foreigners) Are No Longer Welcome Here.  

Shalom (שלום), MAA

 

 

 

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#YouAreWelcomeWhere? A Call to Action

world view post ihe

This is a post I wrote for The World View, a Boston College Center for International Higher Education blog hosted by Inside Higher Ed (IHE).  It is as much a wake-up call as it is a call to action.    

One of my main points, which obviously went over the heads of some readers who commented, is that perception is reality for many parents and students around the world considering study in the USA.  (As one colleague put it, “Some of those comments could support a masterclass entitled Missing the Point.”)

Another is that US educational institutions must aggressively and smartly “sell” not only themselves, responding to current concerns in their marketing and promotional materials, but also study in the USA, in general. 

Competition is fiercer than ever and the US currently has a long list of negatives when compared to other countries hosting large numbers of Vietnamese and other international students, e.g., Australia and Canada.  

Here’s a link to my last post, Gun Violence & Study in the USA, which is related.  And here’s the unabridged version of the #YouAreWelcomeWhere? article.  


When I first saw the hashtag for #YouAreWelcomeHere, a social media campaign launched in the weeks following the 2016 presidential election as a means of reassuring concerned international students and encouraging them to study in the United States, I was afflicted with a momentary case of cognitive dissonance. 

The first questions that popped into my spinning head were “What about on a different campus, an adjoining neighborhood, the city up the road, or another state?  And by whom, everyone or just international educators who see the value of hosting large numbers of international students?

The “glass half full” part of me likes this heartfelt, upbeat messaging campaign.  But while it gives me a small measure of hope, however fleeting, it is ultimately a hollow sentiment that has little meaning against a grim backdrop of xenophobia, racism, and violence. 

Yes, #YouAreWelcomeHere is true in many places but the sometimes harsh reality in a nativist climate rife with acts of hostility towards “the other,” including foreigners, tells a very different story, including at the highest levels of government.  For example, there seems to be no end to official proposals that, if approved, would have the net effect of discouraging international students from choosing the US as an overseas study destination. 

Contempt for “The Other” and Garden-Variety Violence

The US is a diverse country in more respects than one.  There is no national standard governing how US citizens treat one another, evidenced by a long list of hate crimes, not to mention casual comments made in public places that are emotionally damaging to those targeted but that do not violate any law.  This includes the case of the Golden West College professor videotaped last March telling a young, Asian-American couple out for a walk with their baby to “go back to your home country.”

The US is an extremely violent country when compared with peer nations in the industrialized world, many of which are friendly competitors that host large numbers of international students.   Sharath Koppu, arrived in the US from in January 2018 to begin a master’s degree program in computer science at the University of Missouri-Kansas City and was murdered during an attempted robbery in July. 

Not surprisingly, in a country where violent crime is a daily occurrence in many communities, coverage of his murder was sparse beyond Kansas City.  Not so in India, the victim’s home country.  The murder was plastered all over the national media with headlines like Indian-origin student killed in Kansas City and Sharath Koppu Student From Telangana Shot Dead In America. 

It’s safe to assume that more people in India and the vast Indian diaspora read those articles on- and offline, and saw the news reports within hours of the incident than those who have watched the #YouAreWelcomeHere YouTube video, uploaded on 23 November 2016 and, as of 18 October 2018, had just 13,532 views. 

Study in the USA: The Export That No Longer Sells Itself

Even though study in the USA, both secondary and postsecondary, is still a valuable brand in Viet Nam and many other countries, it no longer sells itself.  Current news— the mass shootings, visa denials, US government policy announcements such as the submission to social media information from all visa applicants for the past five years, the latest missile strike, travel bans, and a roiling cauldron of perceptions and misperceptions can have a decisive impact on where a young person studies and where parents want their children to study. 

US higher education needs to do more, much more, to stanch the hemorrhaging of international students and the increasing velocity of their flow to competitor nations such as Australia, Canada, and the UK than post hashtags, spout slogans, produce feel-good videos watched by a handful of people, and offer scholarships to a limited number of students, as commendable as that may be. 

Since the US government is not going to be of much assistance, this urgent task falls to those of us around the world who work with international students who might wish to study in the USA.  US educational institutions that welcome international students to their campuses need to make the case that their students are safe, a primary concern of parents and students, for obvious reasons. 

Rather than simply say that their campuses and communities are safe – official talk is cheap —they need to prove it with student testimonials, written and video, documentation in the form of crime reports, etc.  Just like the country in which they are situated, not all institutions are equal in this respect.  This should be one of a number of key “selling points”.    

Institutions must also stress appropriate strengths against a positive backdrop of why international students should study in the USA in the first place, tell their story in a compelling and appealing manner, especially digitally, and provide superior comprehensive service to students, even if they are working with many of them through agents.  If that means hiring additional staff, then that’s the price institutions have to pay to stay in the game. 

That Which Is Within Our Power

Saying something doesn’t make it so.  At the end of the day, it’s only so much cheerleading, regardless of how it is packaged.  The writing is on the international student recruitment wall in large, fluorescent, spray-painted letters with exclamation points.  Those of us who work with international students whose dream is to study in the USA ignore it at our collective peril.  

In The Enchiridion, a short manual of Stoic ethical advice that dates to 125 AD, Epictetus, a Greek philosopher born into slavery, wrote:  There are things which are within our power, and there are things which are beyond our power.  Fully cognizant of the latter, we must work quickly, creatively, passionately, and with greater urgency on those tasks related to US international student recruitment that are within our power. 

Shalom (שלום), MAA

P.S.:  Question for IHE:  Color me old-fashioned but why not require people to provide their names and, if applicable, affiliation, instead of allowing keyboard critics to hide behind their lame monikers?  Anonymity is like alcohol; it can have the effect of loosening the tongues of those who have it.  (Here’s an excellent Psychology Today article from 2014 on the phenomenon of online trolls.)  Newspapers require writers of letters to the editor to provide their name and telephone number for confirmation purposes.  Why not IHE?  

Gun Violence & Study in the USA

gun-related homicides

I spoke to some students last Friday at a top private high school in Hanoi about overseas study.  Among the small group that was planning to study overseas, they mentioned Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, and New Zealand as potential destinations.  Not one expressed interest in studying in the US.  When I asked why, they mentioned the following reasons:  too many guns, gun violence, shootings, high cost, and their view that US Americans are not friendly. 

A day later, there was a shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue that left 11 dead, including Holocaust survivors.  Some of the students’ impressions and worst fears were confirmed – yet again.  (The jury is out on the overall impact of these negatives on study in the USA among parents and students in Viet Nam, though there is a discernible shift taking place to Canada.)  As of August 2018, there were nearly 30,000 young Vietnamese studying in the US, a slight decrease from December 2017.  In addition, the number of student visas issued in the past year, ending on 30 September 2018, dipped by 5-6%, a possible harbinger of future enrollment decreases.)  

For Many, Perception is Reality

Aside from the tragic loss of human life at the hands of people who hate and have easy access to guns, including assault rifles, widespread gun violence, including mass shootings, are a PR disaster that is not going away anytime soon.  This issue weighs heavily on the minds of students and parents who might otherwise be interested in the US as a potential overseas study destination.  

top 10 gun-owning countries

Sadly, out of the world’s 251,000 gun deaths every year, six countries are responsible for more than half of those deaths, including the US.  The other five countries are Brazil, Mexico, Colombia, Venezuela, and Guatemala.  The US is #1 among its peer countries in the industrialized world in the number of deaths due to gun violence.  (Note that those countries have weaker economies and institutions, e.g., criminal justice systems.  The study from which this information was obtained excludes deaths from war, terrorism, executions, and police.)  

For many students and parents considering study in the USA, perception is reality.  Do mass shootings occur everywhere?  Of course not.  Is the US the most statistically dangerous country in the industrialized world in terms of gun violence?  It’s not even close.  Are Australia, Canada, Germany, and other countries statistically safer?  Absolutely.  

Especially from an outsider’s perspective, the US love affair with guns is puzzling and widely viewed as a form of collective insanity.  Aside from presidential talk of “shithole countries” and other insults not likely to be forgotten or forgiven, this is one of the contributing factors to the perception that the US is unsafe and generally unfriendly. 

Whitewashing reality, along with with “thoughts and prayers,” ain’t gonna do the trick.  Those US colleagues who don’t think this is one of a number of factors in the perfect storm (read nightmare) that is international student recruitment for US educational institutions in these turbulent times have their heads buried in the sand, preferring to live in a state of denial.  

world view post iheJust like saying something doesn’t make it so, ignoring or trivializing reality doesn’t make it any less real and threatening.  Speaking of which, you might be interested in reading a blog post entitled #YouAreWelcomeWhere? A Call to Action, which I wrote for The World View, sponsored by the Boston College Center for International Higher Education and hosted by Inside Higher Ed.  

Shalom (שלום), MAA

Teaching Tolerance: A Facebook Message from the Head of School, The Northwest School (Seattle, WA, USA)

northwest

I noticed this post on my Facebook feed and felt compelled to share it with a wider audience.  The Northwest School has 509 students, 70 of whom are international, including some from Viet Nam.  

Shalom (שלום), MAA

Dear Parents and Families:

Sadly, I write yet again to acknowledge and denounce acts of hate and violence that have racked the country this past week, including the racist murders of two African Americans in Kentucky, a rash of pipe bomb mailings to more than a dozen Democratic political figures, and the mass murder of Jews as they marked the Sabbath on Saturday in the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh.  

I am, of course, heartbroken for those directly affected, for family members who’ve lost loved ones and for communities whose very sense of place and belonging have been threatened or destroyed. But like others, I’m also angry and trying to figure out a productive outlet for that anger. And if adults are struggling to make sense of these horrific acts, we can be certain that our children are, too.  

We can find both solace and agency in community. In that spirit, Temple de Hirsch Sinai in Capitol Hill (1441 16th Avenue) is holding a community-wide vigil for people of all faiths tonight at 7:00. We hope many of you will consider attending with your student(s). Standing together in solidarity is one simple step we can take to counter those who would divide us. Here at Northwest, our Jewish Student Union met during lunch today to support one another and contemplate productive responses to anti-Semitic violence.  

We can also contribute to change by simply talking to one another: while such unspeakable violence is painful to process and virtually impossible to rationally explain, it is crucial lest silence lead to normalizing. For this is in no way normal. As one way into the conversation, faculty shared with one another the following resource from the magazine Teaching Tolerance:  

https://www.tolerance.org/magazine/pittsburgh-shooting-reminds-us-why-we-must-talk-about-hate

We hope you might find it useful, as well.

Sincerely,

Mike McGill
Head of School, The Northwest School

Visa Issuance Rate as Institutional Selling Point (or Not)

Note:  This post is devoted exclusively to the US student visa for the obvious reason that it has the most irrational and unpredictable process of the top host countries for Vietnamese and other international students.  This is heartfelt advice to US colleagues, especially higher education, who have their work cut out for them these days with international student recruitment.  

visa_image
Image courtesy of Schenectady County Community College

There are many US colleges and universities with very high student visa issuance rates, in some cases, 100%.  Given how competitive the recruitment market has become and how problematic the student visa process is, including justifiable student and parent concerns about how hard it is to obtain a visa, this is a golden selling point for those institutions, mostly of the four-year variety, that they should be shouting from the rooftops, digital and otherwise.  If student A applies to university B, her chances of obtaining a visa are very high, which means one less thing to worry about.

For those schools with a less than stellar issuance rate, through no fault of their own, that’s easy.  No need to bring up the issue.  

Shalom (שלום), MAA

Secondary Sector in USA Still Going Strong

august 18 vn students in usaAs I mentioned in the last post, there are nearly 30,000 Vietnamese (29,788, to be exact) studying in the US at all levels.  (Source:  Mapping  SEVIS by the Numbers, August 2018)  Of those, 3,472, or 11.7%, of them are enrolled in boarding and day schools. 

While that’s 720 fewer students than in December 2017 (4,192 or 13.2% of the total) , it’s still a significant number that reflects a continued interest in overseas secondary education and a strong ability to pay on the part of many Vietnamese parents.  

Not included in the above figure are all of the Vietnamese students enrolled in high school completion programs in Washington state, the academic equivalent of killing two birds with one stone that allows young Vietnamese to simultaneously earn a WA high school diploma and an associate degree.  It’s an attractive option for parents who either can’t afford higher cost options such as a boarding school or a high school in the 30k range or who simply prefer that kind of program.  

Shalom (שלום), MAA

“Hyderabad techie shot in Kansas restaurant, dies”

Very sad incident. We should avoid USA for study and employment. -Sanjoy Pandey

IMG_0854
Sharath Koppu, 25, was shot and killed inside J’s Fish and Chicken Market Friday, July 6, 2018, according to Kansas City police.
Courtesy of Kansas City Police

Another international student, Sharath Koppu, who arrived in January in the US to begin his Master’s degree in computer science at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, has fallen victim to the USA’s endemic gun violence.  The above headline was the title of an article that appeared in The Times of India on 8 July 2018.  The quote, which was the first comment, sums the reaction of many, be it on a short- or long-term basis.  

While this shooting apparently received minimal coverage in the US media, with the exception of Kansas City, it was all over the Indian media. (Here is a 9 July editorial from The Kansas City Star editorial board:  Fatal shooting of UMKC student from India tells the world KC is dangerous.)  

More young Indians will think twice before choosing the USA as an overseas study destination.  The shift to Canada and other countries was already taking place and incidents like these only serve to hasten that process.  

Last year, two Garmin engineers, also originally from India, were shot by angry white man yelling “Get out of my country!”  One succumbed to his injuries.  It doesn’t matter that the latter was a hate crime while the former a murder committed during a robbery.  The end result is the same:  they’re both DEAD.  

Sharath Koppu’s cousin, Raghu Chowdavaram, set up a GoFundMe account that raised $50,832 in three (3) days, $25,000 of that within three (3) hours.  Here’s part of what he wrote:

Sharath Koppu is an Indian Computer Engineer who came to the USA in the month of Jan 2018. Sharath is known to his family and friends as full of dreams, cheerful, energetic and athletic. In the pursuit of his dreams, he moved to USA to do his Masters. He had the same dreams like everyone else to make it BIG in the land of opportunity. He had a great sense of humor, and always made people laugh and was always eager to lend a helping hand.

Little did anybody know that life is about to take a big unfortunate turn on a fateful day of July 6th 2018.

R.I.P. Sharath Koppu

Peace, MAA