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American bombs but not American books

September 24, 2020
Illustrated | Getty Images, Library of Congress

The Department of Homeland Security on Thursday released a proposed rule change putting new limits on visas for international students, exchange visitors (au pairs, visiting scholars, and the like), and foreign journalists. The rules for students especially have drawn immediate criticism because, as is so often the case with the Trump administration's immigration policy, they are needlessly onerous and cruel.

As it stands, the student visas in question don't have an expiration date — their duration is linked to the duration of study. The new rule would limit these visas to four years, regardless of degree length. But for students from certain countries, the limit would be just two years, typically half the time to complete a bachelor's degree. Students could request extensions, but they're not guaranteed. The risk of spending two years of time and tuition on a degree that can't be completed is likely great enough to deter many students from studying in America at all.

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Those familiar with President Trump's past country-specific immigration rules won't be surprised to learn the stricter, two-year version applies overwhelmingly to nations in Africa and the Middle East, including many Muslim-majority countries. It does this by targeting the four nations on the state sponsors of terrorism list and, crucially, "citizens of countries with a student and exchange visitor total overstay rate of greater than 10 percent."

But overstay rate often doesn't correlate with overstay volume (India, for example, has more than 20 times as many overstays as Iraq, but a much lower percentage rate). Thus using the overstay rate limits student visas for what Trump would reportedly dub "shithole countries" via an ostensibly neutral formula while doing relatively little to cut down on total visa overstays.

Perhaps most galling of all is this metric's inclusion of nations like Afghanistan and Iraq, where the United States is actively at war and engaged in nation building, ostensibly spreading democracy and promoting education. Other countries we've invaded or otherwise subjected to military intervention — including Yemen, Vietnam, and Somalia — are on the list, too. Citizens of these countries get American bombs, but maybe not books. Bonnie Kristian

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