It’s a fair bet that any foreign national conducting business with USCIS these days expects the unexpected. Knowing many of them personally, I have found myself quizzed for insights, and sometimes something just short of predictions. But while the Supreme Court’s modified stay of the Trump travel ban this week probably could have been anticipated, I suspect that all things Homeland Security occur within a continuous distribution curve—i.e., the probability of any individual outcome is zero. And behind every visa is an individual. I know visiting scholars from countries in the Visa Waiver Program who have been told by Customs and Border Protection that they fly here too often. I know people from non-VWP countries who had to learn all they could about H-1Bs when they lost their graduate funding. Today, I learned that one of my potential students, ostensibly not subject to two-year home residency, had been turned down for an F-1 visa by the Consulate, on the grounds that she had already worked here as an au pair. These aren’t problems you can just Google.
Everyone with a pending application this year has something to say about how much more slowly everything seems to move. Time—whether in the form of prepaid tuition or airline tickets—means money. Which makes me wonder what Executive Order 13802, issued on June 21, may mean when implemented.
EO 13802 hasn’t received as much attention as EO 13769 (Travel Ban) or the Presidential Memorandum of March 6 (Heightened Visa Screening and Vetting), perhaps because unlike them, it is not an original work of art but rather a minor act of vandalism. With EO 13802, the Trump Administration basically erases subsection (b)(ii), section 2, of EO 13597, issued by the Obama Administration in 2012, which provided that eighty percent of visa applicants “are interviewed within 3 weeks of receipt of application.” End of story. So what can applicants expect? One month? Three?
Granted, a lot has changed since 2012. The refugee crisis has flooded, and strained, immigration systems around the world; it is unlikely that the “3 weeks” standard could be maintained without commensurate investment in our own immigration services personnel. But somehow, I don’t see the kind of tweaking practiced in EO 13802 amounting to anything more than licensed inertia.
Good news from Russia. On June 23, TASS reported on a bill issued by the Russian Science and Education Ministry to replace the current one-year multi-visa for foreign university students with one that would, more realistically, be valid for up to three years. According to ICEF, this is part of a larger strategy to triple international enrollments at Russian universities by 2025. It is also part of a longer growth trend in the country’s international student presence since the mid-2000s; the target enrollments, if achieved, will represent a 40% increase. What’s more, anyone who has studied the structural impact the Bologna Process has had on many European tertiary institutions knows that reforms like Russia’s are undertaken at considerable cost, and ICEF lists only a few of the big ones: expanding support services for foreign students, embracing a wide range of programs (and innovating when necessary), and perhaps most importantly, building English-medium teaching capacity. In contrast to the U.S., which can afford to maintain its siege mentality indefinitely, it is encouraging to see a no less security-minded country like Russia taking pains to show that there is no alternative reality to the facts of globalization, especially where higher education is involved.
“So many hindrances may obstruct the acquisition of knowledge, that there is little reason for wondering that it is in a few hands.”
Samuel Johnson, Idler No. 94, 1760