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Rice GSA joins coalition in condemning new immigration policies

By Alonso Medina     3/28/19 12:51pm

Rice Graduate Student Association President Jason Guo recently led a multi-university graduate student coalition in penning a letter in support of the rights of international graduate students to study in the United States. 

“As the son of two parents who came to the U.S. for their graduate studies and a staunch supporter of the value of international graduate education and research, the issues resonated with me,” Guo said. “Ultimately, I felt that I could use my position of leadership to support international graduate students at Rice.”

In the letter to the Texas Congressional delegation, Guo and others defended the right of international students in regard to their student and work visas, which, as they see it, are being threatened by new policies of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

“We have witnessed firsthand how these memorandums and proposals have a disquieting effect on our graduate communities and the interest of international graduate students in pursuing training and employment in the U.S.,” Guo wrote in the letter. 

Guo and other international graduate students argue against three main policies. First is a policy that targets international student visas, stating that international students will accrue unlawful presence immediately upon the date of expiration for a student visa, prior to a formal finding of violation. The letter states this policy will deter students from pursuing their legal contestation of visa status out of fear of accruing unlawful presence. Guo also said that this prevents international students from negotiating the terms of the transition from student visa to employment. 

The second policy puts students at risk of being immediately dismissed by a single CIS officer.  The third sets an inflexibly uniform period of stay for a student visa, a policy that, as Guo writes, is badly designed due to the fact that length of study time required changes in between different programs and disciplines.

“As graduate student leaders, we urge you to support the international graduate students who are not only critical drivers of research and innovation, but also some of our dearest friends, peers and colleagues,” Guo wrote. 

This coalition, which includes the graduate student associations of Baylor University; the University of Texas, Austin; the University of Houston and Texas A&M University, seeks to convince legislators that international students are a critical source of talent, according to the letter.

Guo noted the lack of international students enrolling in U.S. universities in recent years. The National Science Foundation reported that international student enrollment in the U.S. dropped by 5.5 percent in 2016-2017. 

The NSF also found that as of 2010, international students conducted around 51 percent of all scientific research in the U.S. and constituted around 50-70 percent of American STEM programs. Guo said that U.S. universities would lose the valuable intellectual contributions of international students. 

“I think the most accurate way to describe it would be that we’d experience some degree of loss in our traditionally strong ‘brain gain’ from other countries – meaning that many of the best and the brightest internationally might be incentivized to consider other countries for their graduate studies and research,” Guo said. 

Economic concerns are not the only reason why Guo and others have spoken out, according to the letter. The coalition argued that these policies not only were detrimental to the U.S. economy, but also to the international students affected by these policies.

“Besides the immediate impact of the policies themselves, I think they can have a disheartening effect on international graduate students,” Guo said.”The GSA and many other institutions on campus have worked hard to combat this by expressing our welcome and deep appreciation for international graduate students.”

However, Guo said his efforts are not stopping with the letter.

“Using our campaign as a springboard, we’ve formed the first ever public and private university graduate coalition in Texas – accordingly called the Texas Graduate Coalition,” Guo said. “As a coalition, we hope to continue evaluating issues such as the international graduate student experience, federal policies towards graduate education and more across our campuses so that we can have a unified voice on these issues in the future.”

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