The Impact of the Trump Administration Immigration Principles on the International Student Athlete – WHAT’S NEXT?

The immigration policies and practices of the Trump Administration coupled with the immediate execution of harsh punitive measures and overinflated beliefs of immigrants as threats to public safety and the security of Americans have led to troubling times for international student athletes. Universities and colleges are scrambling to implement a plan of action to address and process these changes and quantify their impact on their international student athletes. In times past, the Office of International Student Affairs served as a center for providing informational checklists and assistance where needed on: Pre-entry, Entry and departure immigration requirements; Maintaining SEVIS documentation; Offering events to assist with cultural and community assimilation and NCAA compliance issues.

Currently, the Office of International Student Affairs (OIS) or its equivalent, is a command center dedicated to developing and implementing proactive action plans. The mission of this office is to inform and protect international student athletes from the unjust effects of the harsh immigration policies, proclamations and laws promoted by the Trump Administration.  Furthermore, the OIS has formed more interactive interdepartmental relationships with offices handling mental and physical health and welfare, legal and compliance issues, athletic department staff advisory, and financial aid services. Training and workshops on rea-time immigration practices and enforcement policies are given high priority. Prospective international student athletes and their parents; – even those who are not from the eight countries listed on the Trump Travel Ban approved by the U.S. Supreme Court on September 24, 2017 – are scrutinizing how effective University’s OIS program are at protecting and preparing them for the consequences of the Trump Administration’s immigration practices & and policies, in many instances just as hard as the reputation of their athletic programs.

The NCAA has reported that there are more than 17,000 international students athletes enrolled and competing at NCAA member institutions. See the website of the – International Student-Athletes Section. These students are all uniquely impacted by the current hardline immigrations actions including:

  • The third version of the Trump Travel Ban dated September 24th, 2017; Enhancing Vetting Capabilities and Processing for Detecting Attempted Entry into the United States by Terrorists or Other Public Safety Threats. On December 4th, 2017, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled, that the U.S. government could fully implement travel ban 3.0. This proclamation banned travel from eight countries: Chad, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Somalia, Syria, Venezuela, and Yemen. Iran has the most international student athletes. This travel ban lifted the ban on Sudan and provided for waivers on a case by case basis. The ban does not impact foreign nationals who have a bona fide relationship with an American individual or entity. International student athletes with F-1- student visas are not subject to the restrictions. However, what happens when these athletes have to renew their F-1 student visa and have to go through the enhanced screening and vetting process? Will the old documentation provided from them and their institution be sufficient? There are not clear regulations on what is enhanced vetting. Will delays caused by the enhanced vetting delay their participation in a sporting event or studies? Further, new international student athletes applying for an F-1 visa do not have the requisite bona fide relationship with the institution yet, so it is unclear if additional documentation will be needed to establish this relationship.  As of now, there are no established criteria set for waivers.
  • Increased criminal prosecution of immigrant/nonimmigrant visa violators. The Immigration Customs and Enforcement office – (ICE) made it clear that previous designated safe zones or sensitive areas listed on their website are subjected to ICE raids etc. under certain circumstances. It is unclear what those circumstances are. It is imperative that international student athletes are made aware that schools are one of the institutions included on the sensitive/safe zone areas that ICE now can come seeking violators. Violation of your F-1 status can prompt ICE action. Actions like taking part public demonstrations and parades where random acts of civil disobedience or disturbing the peace occur or failure to file taxes can prompt ICE action. In this environment, the international student athlete must know that acts on their part, even if not criminal in nature, could still bring ICE at their door steps. Receiving certain disciplinary measures from coaches due to violations of student codes of conduct, although not a violation of criminal laws, may still be an admission of a crime under immigration law. Some athletes may have the opportunity to apply for a permanent resident alien card that could lead to citizenship based on exceptional abilities. They need to be made aware that an acts like kneeling for the national anthem could be considered an issue of good moral character at the time of citizenship. Reduction in financial aid or scholarship award could also impact the international student’s F-1 status, if they are not made aware that they must provide documentation that they have the financial means to cover added costs. Failure to file tax returns is also a violation with serious consequences for your student visa status.
  • End visa overstay. The Trump administration pays particular attention to F-1 overstays. They are of the belief that the majority of potential terrorist suspects in the U.S. arrive as students. International students must leave in a timely manner or obtain an extension.

Many international student athletes can attest to their fear of ICE intervention or violent acts from the public. They fear for their personal safety. The impact of the incessant anxiety of being physically assaulted for how they look, where they are from, or who they worship is of paramount concern to them and their families. The current toxic civil and political landscape, most often at the hands of elected government officials has resulted in increased anxiety, isolation and psychological trauma for international student athletes. The Office of International Student Affairs, in conjunction with mental health specialists, sports psychologists and university staff , must dutifully consider this change in environment in their action plan.

So what is the next step for international student athletes in the wake of the current administration’s policies, proclamations and actions?  There must be a centralized command center focused on bringing together all of the relevant departments, officials, and staff to create and maintain an action plan addressing the volatile immigration landscape and its effects on the international student athlete. These students must see their universities and colleges as their first line of defense in their journey through this tumultuous period.


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