How immigration rules are creating barriers for NJ’s international students, faculty

Presidents and chancellors of more than two dozen universities and colleges from across the Garden State sent a letter to the New Jersey Congressional delegation letting them know about the challenges they’ve faced over the past several years, which include recruiting and keeping international students, scholars and faculty. They say it’s because of changes to the immigration system.

“I was delighted when I saw that the presidents of the universities in New Jersey had gotten together to identify a very real problem,” said Scott Herness, dean of the graduate school at Montclair State University, one of the schools that signed the letter in support.

International students apply for an F1 visa to temporarily study in the United States. International faculty and scholars apply for a work visa. All those visas can be placed into administrative processing, which the letter points to as an obstacle.

“It can take two weeks and it can take 10 years, and it’s very unpredictable. It’s basically the government saying they need to do increased checks whether they’re security background checks or checks into admissibility,” said immigration attorney Afia Yunus.

“We have instances where students have to postpone an entire semester because their visa hasn’t been processed in time, or that scholars might not even be able to come and are left in limbo,” said Herness.

According to an analysis by the American Immigration Lawyers Association, the total time it takes the federal government to process foreign visas has increased by 46% over the past two fiscal years. And The Council of Graduate Schools found that new enrollment of international students at U.S. graduate schools have fallen for the second year in a row.

“Why would we not want to bring in talented people that can help not only the university, but then allow us to produce talented workforce that can go out into the state workforce, the state economy, and advance that,” said Herness.

The letter also highlights a survey by the Institute of International Education which found at the undergraduate level enrollment of international students also decreased by 8.9% in the U.S. since the 2015-16 school year.

“We keep focusing on these more hot-button, clickbait issues, such as DACA and TPS and the wall and the migrant caravan, when us immigration attorneys and universities are dealing with this invisible wall which is a very real impact on legal immigration,” said Yunus.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration, which sits within the Department of Homeland Security, has said in previous statements that “waits are often due to higher application rates rather than slow processing,” and adds it “has implemented a range of process and operational reforms, hired additional staff and expanded its facilities to ensure its ability to adjudicate keeps pace with unprecedented demand for its services over recent years.”

But the letter also highlights the difficulty for students to enter the workforce in the United States after school because of an increased request for evidence when applying for visas, like the H-1B.

Yunus explains traditionally students go from an F1 visa to an H-1B to try to stay in the country to work in specialty occupations, but she says there are problems with the system altogether.

“It’s a lottery, so unfortunately we’re missing out on able and qualified, extremely intelligent workers who have sought education in the United States basically because of this lottery system that is completely arbitrary,” said Yunus.

The Trump administration has directed the Department of Homeland Security to modify the H-1B system to make sure the visas are given to the most skilled. It’s part of the president’s executive order, “Buy American and hire American.”