University of Iowa

International students wonder about status in U.S. now

November 10th, 2016

By Anis Shakirah Mohd Muslimin and Laura Scott, The Daily Iowan

In the immediate aftermath of Donald Trump being named the winner of the 2016 presidential election, international students at the University of Iowa began contacting on-campus resources to ask about the effect of the results on their legal immigration status and personal safety.

The International Student & Scholar Services and the Iowa Intensive English Program staff sent out a joint email Wednesday afternoon to international students in an attempt to address and alleviate those concerns and anticipate others.

“With the broad commentary regarding immigration in general, international students and scholars feel threatened or unsafe just for being international,” said Lee Seedorff, the senior associate director of International Scholars & Student Services.

Seedorff said the inquiries she and teachers in the program have received from students include such questions as “Do I have to think about leaving the United States?” or “Am I forced to leave the United States?”

The email was meant to reassure international students that nothing has changed in regards to student and scholar immigration laws. It also told students that “no one on a student or scholar visa needs to make plans to depart the [United States].”

Despite the concern, Seedorff said no international students have yet reported receiving threats or being personally targeted, though she believes the rhetoric of the election did contribute to the uptick in questions and concerns the two offices received. 

“International students fall into many of the ‘groups’ that have specifically been singled out during these past months, including Muslims, Latinos, persons of color, persons with disabilities, refugees, even the LGBTQ community and women,” Seedorff said.

The email closed with a warning that talking about politics can be very “emotionally charged” in the United States, a possible cultural difference from what international students experience at home of which they should be aware. Particularly now, the email said, it would be unwise for students to make political comments or assumptions without knowing their audience first.

Hao Li, a sophomore from China, said that during the primaries his conversations with American friends were more positive. But he noticed that this declined later on.

“I have seen how polarized this election has been,” Li said. “And for me personally, I won’t bring up the politics to other people, even with my friends. Because I don’t know the other sides. So I am afraid that if I do that, I will cause some unnecessary trouble to me.”

Eve Stewart, a freshman from the Netherlands, said she has been trying to listen first before opening a political conversation with anyone, especially knowing that she is in Iowa, a state that voted Republican this year.

“I just think it’s shocking,” Stewart said. “For me and most of my friends back home, it’s just a part two of Brexit.”