Studying in the US Under the Trump Era

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Since taking on the office, Trump has been constantly making headlines almost daily with his law and regulation update proposals. His presidential term has been characterized by actions and order aligned to his slogan “Make America Great Again”. The figure is taken from hotspotsmagazine.com.

Donald Trump’s election to the White House has certainly caught many people by surprise. For a lot of international students who are planning to pursue an education or career in the US, many might be wondering—how, if at all, does Trump’s election affect their lives? In this article, contributor Mike Kurniawan shares some insights on how the Trump Era affects international students.

Since decades ago, the United States (US) has been one of the top destinations for students, scholars and researchers from all around the world. Despite the steadily rising tuition fee across the nation, American universities have seen an ever-increasing number of applicants in the last few decades. Under the Trump Era, many regulations with direct impact on student life, such as immigration and tax reform, have been updated. This article touches on few key topics that may impact international students’ decision whether to embark on their academic journey in the US.

1) Immigration and International Travel

Applying for student visa, work visa, length of stay, and success rate of the applications are among the uncertainties that keep international students on their toes. Under the Trump administration, the F-1 and J-1 student visas are mostly unchanged. Keep in mind that F-1 visa allows you to work for 1 year after graduation on a program called OPT (Optional Practical Training) and those F-1 visa holders in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) field get an optional 2 years of extension, commonly known as STEM OPT.

Work visas and permanent residency, on the other hand, are topics that are heavily debated. Among US work visas, H-1B is the most popular route as it allows holders to work for 3 years with another 3 years of extension upon approval. In 2017, the quota for H-1B recipients stayed the same at 85,000. There were reports about petitions being more closely scrutinized (here and here) and USCIS officers requesting for more supporting documents. The 3 years of extension was also rumored to be planned for obsoletion (here). News about a new H-1B law requiring applicants to fill positions paying some six-digit salary or above were circulating in the media in the earlier part of the year as well. And lastly, there were some talks about eliminating the ability of H-4 holders (i.e. dependent) to be employed. All of the above, however, have not been officially passed/approved.

The same higher level of scrutiny has also been reported for green card applications. Applicants are put at higher standards and must be able to prove their strong background, track record, and show clear benefits that they can bring to the US. More spotlights are given to the lottery-based green cards, which make up about 5% of the total granted US permanent residencies. Some have challenged this route to the US permanent residency and proposed to completely eliminate it. Up to the time of this writing, however, the proposal has not been made official. All in all, the pressure for updates and tightening of H-1B and US permanent residency may result in greater difficulty and competition among international students and job seekers in the job market.

2) Tax Laws

If you followed the news from last 2017, there were many articles about the tax cut proposed by President Trump. The idea of passing a tax cut reform is to allow people and corporations to keep more of their income and use it to grow the economy through higher spending and higher investment. The tax reform has been recently passed and is finally a reality. The economic impact of this new tax law, however, is still to be seen.

There was a proposal to make the graduate students’ waived tuition fees taxable. Graduate students in the US are normally paid about $15,000 – $30,000 annually, and they perform research and teach undergraduate classes. In return, the universities waive their tuition fees, which range from $40,000 – $50,000. If these graduate students have to pay tax on their waived tuition fees, it will be a big hit to their already small stipend. Some experts estimated that the additional tax owed by the graduate students, should this proposal pass, would be in the range of $2,000 – $3,500 per year. This translates to a lower income of between $167 – $292 per month, which is substantial compared to the average stipend of around $2,000 – $3,000 per month. Though this law did not pass, some graduate students in American universities are still uneasy as they feel that the government may pursue this proposal again in the near future (here and here).

Figure 2a

The tables above show the 2017 and 2018 US income tax brackets, for singles and married filers. In a glance, one can see that the new tax laws lower the amount of tax owed by taxpayers. The goal of this, along with corporate tax cuts, is to grow the US economy through higher consumer spending, entrepreneurship, and more corporate hiring. Figure was taken from Business Insider.
The tables above show the 2017 and 2018 US income tax brackets, for singles and married filers. In a glance, one can see that the new tax laws lower the amount of tax owed by taxpayers. The goal of this, along with corporate tax cuts, is to grow the US economy through higher consumer spending, entrepreneurship, and more corporate hiring. Figure was taken from Business Insider.

 

3) Rent and Housing

Under Trump Era, the housing/property market has also been impacted. While the new law for a lower limit for tax deduction based on property one owns does not have significant impact on students’ housing and rent, the rising interest rates set by the US Federal Reserve plays a major role in slowing down property investment and construction of new properties. What this means, is that it will be more expensive to borrow money and thus, developers will be more reluctant to build more properties. The slow growth of available rental properties combined with increasing number of student population each year will eventually result in a possibility of rent increase.

4) Assimilation with general population

A lot of people may be wondering how the general population’s attitude towards internationals have changed after Trump’s election, if at all. I myself, have had positive experiences since I came to the US in 2012.

When I lived in Pittsburgh from 2012 until 2016, I was surrounded by people affiliated with Carnegie Mellon University. Since there are many international students and scholars, I never felt like a minority and I got along well with friends and colleagues, whether they were Americans or internationals. I kept it professional at work and followed all the rules laid down by the university (i.e. when you are in a graduate program under F-1/J-1, your university will be your “host” and they will help you with anything related to immigration).

Moving to upstate New York in 2016, I found myself in an area with a lot of Trump supporters, which was interesting. I enjoy talking to and learning from people. I knew I wouldn’t get the whole picture simply from reading news from the media. I spoke with friends and colleagues about their worldview from the “Republican” side and learned about the history of the US. Long story short, I have made a bunch of friends here, who support President Trump and are excited with the reforms he has been making. On immigration, one has to understand that Trump focuses on cracking down illegal immigration and low paying H1B-based positions, since they are viewed as a way some corporations use to take jobs from the Americans. With this being said, if you follow and respect the legal routes, watch out for all the rules, and work for reputable companies, chances are you will be just fine.

Assimilation of immigrants with the general population correlates well with the sense of belonging, well being, and productivity. Common sense, such as respecting local customs, speaking the local language, building good relationship with the those closest to us (e.g. neighbors), are always a good start to begin your journey in a foreign land. The figure is taken from www.slate.com.
Assimilation of immigrants with the general population correlates well with the sense of belonging, well being, and productivity. Common sense, such as respecting local customs, speaking the local language, building good relationship with the those closest to us (e.g. neighbors), are always a good start to begin your journey in a foreign land. The figure is taken from www.slate.com.

As a closing note, I want to emphasize that the US is in a very dynamic moment now and will be in the foreseeable future. Under President Trump, the administration is making numerous policy updates, centered toward the “American first” slogan. Keep up to date on the latest news, especially regarding immigration and the US job market as the immigration reform may result in a more challenging environment for those who plan to immigrate to the US. Given that the F-1 OPT and H-1B work visas expire after a few years, keep in mind that immigrants will never truly achieve a piece of mind until he/she has a green card. Also, account for the US tax reform and rental property market, since they will impact on your income and on the lifestyle you can afford.

Your university provides a lot of guidance on maintaining visa status. When in doubt, always consult the International Student Office. Universities are also a great first avenue to get to know people and assimilate yourself to the communities. Observe local customs and respect the rules of the place that you visit and where you live. What is acceptable in one’s home country may not be so in the US. If you live off campus, ask the landlord of all responsibilities and things expected from you.

You can find more information on college applications, student/work visa and student life from the net. Websites such as gradcafe, collegeconfidential, and Indonesian Mengglobal (IM) are great resources. To stay up to date on the most recent US news, sites such as Yahoo News and Google News are full of useful information. If you are looking for an education consultancy company that will guide you with everything related to college applications (e.g. resume, cover letter, interview preparation, etc.), college life, job search, and embarking on international studies, I would recommend All-inedu (http://all-inedu.com/). All All-inedu consultants graduated from or live as expats in the US and other major cities around the world and thus, can provide useful insights on studies and working life in your target destination.