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International students and UB

UB is among the top 25 U.S. institutions hosting international students, according to the 2016 Open Doors Report on International Educational Exchange, with a total of 7,026 students for the 2015-16 academic year. Photo: Douglas Levere

by ELLEN GOLDBAUM

Published December 9, 2016

John Wood

In the wake of the presidential election, many UB international students, as well as faculty and staff members, have expressed concern about national policy issues, in particular immigration policy. Many students and scholars are concerned about their safety, well-being and their future in the U.S. UBNow asked John J. Wood, senior associate vice provost for international education, to talk about these issues, UB policies regarding international students and scholars, and the university’s commitment to fostering a welcoming, safe and inclusive environment for all members of the UB community.

Please describe some of the concerns among UB’s international students or those with undocumented parents.

JW: The rhetoric of the presidential campaign understandably has caused anxiety and fear among some of our students, both domestic and international. Muslim students have reported being concerned about a potential “registry” and being the target of some kind of backlash. Students have expressed concern about their future prospects in the United States and about going home for the holidays and not being able to re-enter the U.S. for the spring semester.

Are you also hearing from international staff members, faculty and visiting scholars? What are you telling them?

JW: Talk during the campaign of a more restrictive immigration posture has raised fears that policy on employment-based visa categories (e.g. H-1B, TN) might be changed to reduce the number of folks in these categories. Frankly, there is no evidence that such changes are pending.

Is the new administration’s rhetoric affecting UB’s recruitment of students and faculty?

JW: It is still early in the current admissions cycle (for fall 2017); however, recruiters overseas have addressed many questions from students about the implications of the election in terms of how welcoming the U.S. will be to international students going forward. In addition, there are concerns at UB that in the short term we may see a downturn in international applications due to uncertainty about future changes to U.S. policy. In light of these concerns, our staff has redoubled its efforts to reassure students that UB remains a welcoming and supportive campus for international students.

Can you distinguish between the Sanctuary campus movement and UB’s participation in the DACA program?

JW: The Sanctuary campus movement calls upon institutions to pledge to refuse to cooperate with federal officials in the event the new administration seeks to deport undocumented students. A recent memo from SUNY administration to SUNY presidents has noted that there have been a number of inquiries as to what actions, if any, presidents may take in response to campus concerns about this issue. It stated that while presidents do not have the independent legal authority to declare their campuses “sanctuaries,” they may certainly take this opportunity to reinforce SUNY’s strong commitment to the values of diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Undocumented students in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program have applied for and been approved for this program by the federal government and, therefore, are already well known to the government. There has been speculation that the new administration would cancel DACA, but recent indications suggest Congress favors the continuation of the program and the administration may not follow through with the cancellation.  

President Satish Tripathi and many other college and university presidents have signed the “Statement in Support of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) Program and Our Undocumented Immigrant Students,” which President Tripathi described in his Nov. 22 message to the UB campus as “another expression of how we at UB strongly uphold the value of being a diverse university.”  

President Tripathi’s message makes it clear that UB is committed to “ensuring a safe campus community free of harassment and discrimination, and to protecting the privacy of all our students.” UB’s policies in this regard, the president wrote, “apply to all members of our university — domestic and international — and all visitors and volunteers on our campus.”

How does the Patriot Act affect how UB interacts with international students and immigration officials?

JW: The Patriot Act, passed in the wake of 9/11, mandates cooperation with federal officials on the part of university officials charged with immigration policy compliance — for example, around reporting requirements in the electronic tracking system SEVIS (Student and Exchange Visitor Information System). Designated school officials (DSOs) at UB are required to respond to investigative requests from the Department of Homeland Security and other federal agencies. Failure to do so puts at risk UB’s ability to enroll international students.

What are some of the things your office is doing to try to allay the concerns of international students and faculty?

JW: Our office, and particularly International Student and Scholar Services (ISSS), is both responding to specific student concerns and proactively reaching out to international students to reassure them. On Dec. 2, for example, ISSS held a “Post-Election Open Forum” that some 40 students attended. The forum allowed participants the opportunity to share their concerns and ask questions about possible developments under the new administration. I am pleased to say that a number of deans have also organized forums and town hall meetings to address concerns of their students. The law school forum on Nov. 28, for instance, brought together a mix of UB faculty, students and community members concerned about the implications of the election and how they might respond.

UB has invested resources into recruiting in the Middle East, which could be in jeopardy if a Muslim registry is implemented by the Trump administration. What would you want to say to the state department about why UB would oppose a Muslim registry?

JW: UB has been recruiting in the Middle East for more than 15 years, and we also have a long recruitment history in other major Muslim countries outside of the Middle East, such as Indonesia and Malaysia. While we have not yet recruited directly in Iran, the number of UB students from that country has grown rapidly in recent years and now exceeds 100. Thus, a potential “Muslim registry” may discourage students from coming to UB from these countries.

Although we will have to wait and see, early post-election indications suggest the Trump administration will not implement such a registry since a similar initiative following 9/11 proved to be counterproductive.

What else do you think should be known on campus and beyond about UB’s international students, faculty and staff?

JW: What should always be kept in mind are the valuable and far-reaching contributions our international students, faculty and staff make to UB, contributions to our research, teaching and service missions. The international community of UB benefits all of us, enhancing the diversity of that community, our global learning opportunities and the richness of our cultural and intellectual life.