International students raise concerns over election

by Matthew Graham-O'Regan / Staff Writer • December 8, 2016

When Ana Londoño told her parents she wanted to leave Panama to study in Boston, they were less than thrilled. That was 2013, the year of the Boston Marathon bombing.

They settled on the University of Miami, where she studied broadcast journalism for two years before transferring to Emerson, Londoño said.

The senior journalism major now questions if she would have moved to this country at all if she could’ve predicted the outcome of the 2016 presidential election. She said she is now concerned that international students won’t apply to colleges here, fearing a lack of support.

“The dream we have is to come to the United States to study,” Londoño said. “Now that I know what life in the U.S. is like, I would tell them to not worry.”

The day after Donald Trump was elected, two prospective international students withdrew their applications from Emerson College, one from Latin America and the other from New Zealand, Associate Director of Admissions Camille Bouknight said.

Emerson enrolls some 160 international students, a group that makes up about 5 percent of the student body, according to the school’s freshman profile for the last 4 years.

Although the college was declared a sanctuary campus for undocumented immigrants, Dean of Admissions and Associate Vice President of Enrollment Management Data and Analytics Eric Sykes said he expects it will become more difficult to recruit international students under the Trump administration.  

“We commit ourselves to making Emerson College a welcoming and safe place for all students with a specific emphasis on international students, given the current political climate,” Sykes said.

College applications in the U.S. are already competitive and require a lot of paperwork, but for international students, there is much more to do. There are student visa forms and fees; language exams, like the Test of English as a Foreign Language; and many more health forms and travel fees.

A big motivation to come to the U.S. to study is the job opportunities linked to the student visas, Londoño said. A benefit of the standard F-1 student visa is the opportunity to find employment for up to 12 months, called the Optional Training Program. There are also lottery-based extensions for post-degree work like the H-1B.

International students may not have the same employment available under the Trump administration. Threats have been made by Donald Trump’s intended nominee for attorney general, Jeff Sessions, in the form of a proposed bill to limit access to work in the U.S. for nonimmigrants: people here to study or work temporarily without plans to apply for citizenship.

Other schools in the area report higher percentages of international students than Emerson. Suffolk University’s international students make up 23 percent of the undergraduates. Massachusetts Institute of Technology is almost 30 percent international students. Boston University reports 24 percent of students are international. Northeastern undergraduates are 14 percent international.

There are 60 percent more applications from international students at Emerson now than the last 2 years at the college, Styles wrote in an email.

Londoño said she fears a Trump presidency. She said she feels paranoid of being marginalized following the rhetoric used against Latino people during Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.

“I don’t think anything is going to happen to me because I am white,” she said, “but something may because I am Hispanic.”