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ICE Drops Student Visa Threat, but Foreign Students Still Face Hurdles

The decision will come as a relief to U.S.-based international students. But the United States should worry about the steady drop in foreign student applications.

By , the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy.
A person walks towards the main quad during a quiet morning at Stanford University on March 9, 2020 in Stanford, California.
A person walks towards the main quad during a quiet morning at Stanford University on March 9, 2020 in Stanford, California. Philip Pacheco/Getty Images

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: The United States drops student visa curbs, U.S. President Donald Trump signs Hong Kong sanctions into law, and North Macedonia goes to the polls.

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Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: The United States drops student visa curbs, U.S. President Donald Trump signs Hong Kong sanctions into law, and North Macedonia goes to the polls.

If you would like to receive Morning Brief in your inbox every weekday, please sign up here.

ICE Reverses Student Visa Decision

The Trump administration has climbed down from a position that would have left thousands of foreign students in the United States with little choice but to leave the country. On Tuesday, a court case brought by Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) against the Department of Homeland Security and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) was scuttled at the last moment when the presiding judge announced that ICE would reverse its decision.

Last week, ICE announced that it was reinstating rules forcing students to take in-person classes at colleges and universities or risk losing their visas. The move was immediately challenged by a number of states and higher-education institutions, leading to Tuesday’s dramatic reversal.

It’s not clear whether ICE will propose a new rule following Tuesday’s climbdown but Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey signaled that the case may not be the last on this issue. “They may try this again. We will be ready,” she wrote on Twitter.

The decision will likely be a relief for some of the students Foreign Policy’s Amy Mackinnon and Augusta Saraiva talked to on July 10; some had even expressed doubts that the internet in their home countries would be able to cope with the switch to online classes.

A tale of decline. While the weaknesses of the U.S. health care and social welfare systems have been brutally exposed by the coronavirus pandemic, U.S. universities remain a durable monument to U.S. soft power: 27 of the QS Top 100 universities are in the United States—the most of any country—and just over one million foreign students study in the country each year. However, foreign student enrollment at U.S. colleges and universities has been declining since 2016, according to the Institute for International Education (IIE). Foreign enrollments saw a 6.6 percent drop in 2017, the year Donald Trump became U.S. president.

Visa obstacles. U.S. colleges and universities overwhelmingly report difficulty in obtaining visas as the number one barrier to foreign student enrollment. In 2019, 86.9 percent of higher learning institutions cited visa difficulties as the top factor in missing out on foreign students, a jump from 68.4 percent in 2017.

Meanwhile, north of the border. On Tuesday, Canada announced plans to make it easier for foreign students to enroll in Canadian universities and will allow time spent studying online to count toward requirements for graduate work permits. Overall, Canada is seeing an increase in foreign student enrollment: The number of permits granted to foreign students to study in Canada has increased 11 percent from last year.

What We’re Following Today

Trump signs Hong Kong sanctions law. On Tuesday, U.S. President Donald Trump continued a week of moves against China by signing a new law that imposes sanctions on Chinese banks doing business with Chinese officials involved with new national security laws in Hong Kong. The president also signed an executive order, largely mirroring existing policy, that revokes the special treatment Hong Kong had received from the United States under the “One Country, Two Systems” doctrine.

Sanctions not “off the table” in South China Sea dispute. David Stilwell, the assistant secretary of state for East Asia, has said that the United States could impose sanctions on China as part of its new stance on Chinese maritime claims in the South China Sea. When asked about the possibility of sanctions, Stilwell replied: “Nothing is off the table … there is room for that. This is a language the Chinese understand—demonstrative and tangible action.”

And if you’re are still wondering what Monday’s U.S. declaration of China’s South China Sea claims as “unlawful” means for U.S. policy, read this short explainer.

North Macedonia holds general election. Citizens of North Macedonia go to the polls today in their first vote since the country changed its name from Macedonia two years ago. Opinion polls show the country’s two main parties—the Social Democrats (SDSM) and the conservative VMRO-DPMNE—in a tight race, making it likely that neither wins an outright majority in the 120-seat parliament. An interim government has ruled North Macedonia since January after the resignation of SDSM Prime Minister Zoran Zaev.

Tensions flare in Nagorno-Karabakh. Armenian and Azerbaijani forces both suffered casualties in ongoing skirmishes over disputed territory in the Nagorno-Karabakh region. Fighting has been sporadic since war broke out in the 1990s, and flared up again on Sunday. Armenia reported four soldiers killed on Tuesday, with Azerbaijan reporting seven soldiers killed along with one civilian. Russia has offered to act as a mediator in the dispute, while Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has vowed to protect Azerbaijan, which has ethnic ties with Turkey.

Keep an Eye On

Global population could peak sooner than anticipated. A new study, published in the medical journal the Lancet, has challenged United Nations estimates of when peak human population will occur. The Lancet study asserts that global population will peak at 9.7 billion in 2064, and decline to 8.8 billion in 2100. U.N. estimates had previously put peak population at 10.9 billion around the year 2100. The study also warns that China’s aging population could become burdensome in the latter stages of the 21st century, allowing the United States to reassert itself as the world’s largest economy—but only if it retains its status as an immigration magnet.

Coronavirus vaccine heads to large-scale U.S. trial. An experimental coronavirus vaccine developed by the U.S. National Institutes of Health and Moderna Inc. is headed for a 30,000 person human trial—the largest of any potential vaccine so far—following promising results in initial trials. In smaller scale human trials, the vaccine was found to create a similar level of antibodies as those found in recovered coronavirus patients. Anthony Fauci, the top U.S. infectious disease specialist, told the Associated Press that “No matter how you slice this, this is good news.”

Odds and Ends

Saudi Arabia’s ongoing feud with Qatar has reached the sporting world after the kingdom officially banned the Doha-based sports broadcaster BeIN from operating within its borders. The move means that Saudis now have no legal way of watching sporting events like the popular English Premier League as BeIN has exclusive rights in the region (there are also fewer illegal options too, after Saudi Arabia cracked down on Saudi-based pirate broadcaster beoutQ). The decision comes as a consortium led by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund is poised to purchase Newcastle United for roughly $377 million. If the sale goes through and the BeIN ban stays in place, Saudis will have to seek out more underhanded methods to watch their new team.

That’s it for today.

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Colm Quinn is the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @colmfquinn

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