New ban halted, but foreign student applications fall

Two federal judges last week blocked President Donald Trump’s new executive order temporarily banning entry into the United States from six Muslim countries – Iran, Yemen, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Syria – which was due to begin after midnight on Thursday.

Meanwhile, a new survey suggests international student applications are falling as a result of the Trump administration’s anti-immigrant stance and fear of further restrictions or an extension of the travel ban to other countries being imposed.

A federal judge in Hawaii issued a nationwide order last Wednesday evening blocking the ban on entry from the six countries – specifically citing the impact it would have on the University of Hawaii – and on Thursday a federal judge in Maryland issued a separate order blocking both entry from the six countries and the suspension of entry by refugees from anywhere.

According to Inside Higher Ed, the Hawaii judge said in his ruling that the university was an arm of the state and recruits students, permanent faculty and visiting faculty from the targeted countries. “Students or faculty suspended from entry are deterred from studying or teaching at the university, now and in the future, irrevocably damaging their personal and professional lives and harming the educational institutions themselves."

He also said that the university would be affected financially by the loss of fees from prospective recruits and the ban would “grind to a halt certain academic programmes, including the university’s Persian language and culture programme”.

He also noted that the damage to the university’s collaborative exchange of ideas among people of different religions and national backgrounds would “impair the university’s ability to recruit and accept the most qualified students and faculty” and undermine its commitment to be one of the world’s most diverse institutions of higher education, Inside Higher Ed reported.

The two court orders are not the final ruling on whether the new travel ban is constitutionally acceptable. White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer has confirmed that the administration plans to appeal against both rulings and Trump has said he will take the case “as far as it needs to go”, including the US Supreme Court, if necessary, to affirm his right to issue the restrictions. A protracted legal battle is expected.

Trump said the new order being blocked was a watered-down version of the original one. It reduced the number countries listed from seven to six. It only applied to people with regard to new visas. And it dropped the indefinite ban on entry by Syrian refugees but kept a 120-day ban on all refugees.

Trump said on Thursday that the Hawaii ruling represented “unprecedented judicial overreach” and declared: “We are going to win. We’re going to keep our citizens safe. The danger is clear. The law is clear. The need for my executive order is clear.”

But both federal judges in making their ruling cited evidence of religious discrimination behind the ban.

US District Judge Theodore Chuang in Maryland wrote: “The history of public statements continues to provide a convincing case that the purpose of the second executive order remains the realisation of the long-envisioned Muslim ban.”

Judge Derrick Watson in Hawaii criticised what he called the “illogic” of the government’s arguments and cited “significant and unrebutted evidence of religious animus” behind the travel ban.

A third state was poised to join the action against the new ban on Friday. Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson said the state would take Trump to court to block the enforcement of his new order.

He said the state’s challenge would be similar to its challenge to the first order, that it both discriminated against Muslims and caused unnecessary harm to the state’s residents, universities and businesses.

Minnesota has joined Washington’s lawsuit and according to the Los Angeles Times, attorney generals of New York, Oregon and Massachusetts have said they would join the suit.

International student applications fall

The first signs of an impact of the Trump administration’s travel ban orders and anti-immigrant stance on international student numbers emerged last week with the publication of a survey showing a drop in international student applications to US universities for autumn 2017.

The snapshot survey by American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers, published in cooperation with the Institute of International Education, the International Association for College Admission Counseling, the National Association for College Admission Counseling, and NAFSA: Association of International Educators, found that of 250 institutions responding, 39% reported a decline in international applications, while 35% reported an increase.

Institutions reported the highest declines in applications from the Middle East – which supplies 100,000 students – where there was a 39% decline in undergraduate applications and a 31% decline in graduate applications.

Institutions indicated that applications from India and China, which between them supply half a million students to the US, have also declined.

Some 26% of institutions reported a fall in undergraduate applications from India and 25% reported a fall in undergraduate applications from China. At graduate level there was a sharp difference, with 32% of institutions reporting a decline in applications from China, and 15% reporting declines from India.

The most frequently noted concerns of international students and their families, as reported by institution-based professionals, include:
  • • Perception of a rise in student visa denials at US embassies and consulates in China, India and Nepal.
  • • Perception that the climate in the US is now less welcoming to individuals from other countries.
  • • Concerns that benefits and restrictions around visas could change, especially around the ability to travel, re-entry after travel, and employment opportunities.
  • • Concerns that the Executive Order travel ban might expand to include additional countries.
German opposition

Meanwhile in the week that German Chancellor Angela Merkel was due to visit the United States, German universities came out strongly against the new ban, and backed the protest made by the European University Association.

“The US president’s new decree still aims to discriminate against a large number of people on the basis of their origin,” said Horst Hippler, president of Germany’s Rectors' Conference or Hochschulrektorenkonferenz, which represents the country’s universities.

“Many of these people are students and academics. However, this not only means considerable restrictions for those immediately affected. It also creates a general atmosphere of distrust of foreigners. This in turn threatens open-mindedness, which is vital to higher education.” Hippler has therefore pledged his organisation’s support of the European University Association’s protest.

Germany’s universities had already strongly criticised Trump’s January entry ban for nationals from the then group of seven predominantly Muslim countries.

A statement issued by the Hochschulrektorenkonferenz, together with the German Academic Exchange Service, the German Research Foundation, the Helmholtz Association of German Research Centres, the Leibniz Association, the Max Planck Society, the German Council of Science and Humanities, and the National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina, early in February claimed that the ban was in breach of the fundamental values of the international community and would hamper academic exchange.

The organisations called for the need to maintain the free movement and exchange of individuals across disciplines, nations and cultures. They also complained that the decree was already having an effect on academic mobility, while it was unsuitable to combat international terrorism.