Threat to International Student Mobility

What happens when the ‘borders’ to higher education close?

Times Higher Education (World University Rankings) is one of the most renowned league tables used to rank universities worldwide.  One of the indicators used in judging the top universities is the percentage of international students enrolled.  In the 2016/2017 World Rankings, 15 of the top 20 universities were located in the United States (US), with the number of international students enrolled ranging from 16 to 34 percent.  It dawned on me, that with the advent of the Trump administration, it is likely that higher educational institutions in the United States may experience a downturn in the number of international students who will choose to study in that country during the life span of his presidency.

USABarbedWireThe internet is abuzz with the Executive Order from the White House temporarily banning travelers and refugees from seven (7) Muslim states – Syria, Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Libya, Somalia and Yemen from entering the USA (Fischer, 2017; the Guardian, 2017; Ansari, Robertson & Dewan, 2017).  Even, students studying in the US and holders of US green cards who were from these countries and who found themselves outside of the United States at the implementation of the ban, were prohibited entry for days. Those planning to travel were also dissuaded from doing so until the ‘storm’ had passed and the intent of the Administration was clearly articulated.  Thousands of students were left stranded (Fischer, 2017).

The US as a study destination

The number of students who travel to another country to study is on the rise with five million travelling as at 2014 (The University of Oxford, 2015).  The United States receives the largest number of international students yearly, followed by the United Kingdom.

Crybaby Millennials
Crybaby Millennials

According to 2015 data from College Factual from the Department of Homeland Security cited in Stockwell (2017), 23,763 international students hailed from the countries affected by the travel ban, 15,773 of which are pursuing Bachelor degrees or postgraduate degrees in the US.  The greatest number hailing from Iran with 14,981. College Factual estimates that the economic benefit to universities for these Iranian students amounted to over US$700 million.  The United States is one of five countries that benefit from half of the five million students who studied abroad in 2014 (the University of Oxford, 2015).  Can you imagine the billions being made by colleges and universities annually?  What would happen if the ban suddenly expanded to include other countries, such as China and India?  As 1 in 6 international students is Chinese and 53 percent of international students are Asian (the University of Oxford, 2015), the financial fallout would be astronomical.  Universities are, however, fighting back.

Push Back Against the Ban

Universities are crying foul and have sought legal redress to stop President Trump’s Executive Order.  Seventeen (17) universities have legally challenged Trump’s travel ban. The universities argue that “their school missions and influence are “truly global” and the President’s Executive Order threatens “their goals of educating tomorrow’s leaders from around the world” (deHahn, 2017).  Signing an amicus brief were the top eight ivy league schools in the US plus nine other top ranking schools, including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) that is ranked number one by the Times Higher Education World league charts.  An amicus brief, Dehaun states, was a legal document signed by interested parties not involved in a direct litigation, but allowed to share their stance on a case where they feel a decision could affect them.

trumpjusticeMembers of the US judiciary are also pushing back, rendering the ban unconstitutional, allowing thousands to return to the classroom (Blumenstyk, Najmabadi & Brown, 2017).  On the foreign policy front lines, several countries have publicly denounced the act while some of the affected countries, like Iran and Iraq, are considering taking reciprocal measures to ban US passport holders and in the case of Iraq, the expulsion of US troops from the country (Brinkhurst-Cuff, Chulov & Dehghan, 2017).

What does that mean for us?

How does this affect Jamaica, you might ask? Currently, the travel ban does not pose a direct threat to Jamaicans.  Given the unpredictability of this President, however, the possibility exists that the drastic measures being implemented to ‘take back America’s borders’ may negatively impact us later. Short of the fact that a few hundred students from Jamaica study in the United States, the immediate fear is that the Trump administration may not stop at these seven countries, now six with the revised travel ban.  The Trump campaign has shown itself to be racially biased against minorities, so what is to stop the Administration from targeting other groups. After condoning the rhetoric of the ‘Wall’ and the ‘America First’ banter, millions are now witnessing what that entails, which is contrary to the mantra of ‘the land of the free’. The world is now seeing firsthand what happens when a ‘border’ closes.  Abuse of power against a particular group of people reminiscent of the early days of the Nazi empire.

trump1In its quest to protect ‘the people’, the US travel ban mirrors the persecution of ‘inferior’ groups by the Nazis in their pursuit to purify the Aryan race (Holocaust Encyclopedia, n.d.).  The point of this comparison is that the Nazis did not stop with its first targeted group, homosexuals, who were tortured and murdered; posing as moral crusaders, they then turned their attention to Jews and blacks.  In Trump’s “America First”, the ban may be a preview of what’s to come.

Jamaican visitors and students should expect heightened security and increased scrutiny at ports of entry, clear resultants of the ban.  J1 Work and Travel participants should also anticipate restrictions.  The amended travel ban places a 90-day ban on the issuance of new visas to countries affected, but it is possible that visa restrictions may affect us as well.  Patel (2017) states that the political climate in the United States has instilled fear and reluctance among students, with one in three prospective candidates to US based universities indicating that they are less interested in studying there.

But ‘wha drop affa head, can drop pon shoulder.’ Jamaica should seek to garner ‘the spoils’ from this Executive Order.  The University of Oxford (2015) reports that interest to study in the US has been declining among international students, favouring instead countries like Canada and Australia.  ICEF (2015) says that “the nature of competition is shifting, with enrolment more widely distributed among a larger field of destinations, including a growing number of non-English-speaking countries.”  Jamaica should capitalize on this opportunity by ramping up its thrust of attracting more international students to the island, particularly from this affected group.  The Study Jamaica thrust to brand the island as a higher education destination may be the catalyst for breaking into this niche market.  Jamaica is a diverse society comprising all religious faiths and beliefs; a non-discriminatory country.

Changes in the ‘free world’ have ripple effects on the rest of the world.  It is possible that this ‘border’ closure will ricochet on other countries, hopefully in a positive way.  Whatever the future outcome, new emerging markets will continue to influence global student mobility.  The countries – and universities – that will benefit will be the ones that are most responsive – and accommodating.


Ansari, A., Robertson, N., & Dewan, A. (2017). World leaders react to Trump’s travel ban. CNN Politics. January 31, 2017. Retrieved from

Blumenstyk, G., Najmabadi, S. & Brown, S. (2017). Court rebukes Trump’s travel ban, and harm to universities plays a key role. The Chronicle of Higher Education. February 9, 2017. Retrieved from

Brinkhurst-Cuff, C., Chulov, M. & Dehghan, S. K. (2017). Muslim-majority countries show anger at Trump travel ban. The Guardian. 29 January 2017. Retrieved from

deHahn, P. (2017). 17 Universities file legal challenge to Trump’s travel ban. USAToday. 14 February 2017. Retrieved from

Fischer, K. (2017). Trump’s travel ban leaves students stranded – and colleges scrambling to help. The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved from

Holocaust Encyclopedia (n.d.). Persecution of homosexuals in the third reich. Retrieved from

ICEF (2015). The state of international student mobility in 2015. Retrieved from

Patel, V. (2017). Prospective international students show new reluctance to study in the US.  The Chronicles of Higher Education. Retrieved from

Stockwell, C. (2017). What Trump’s travel ban means for thousands of international students in the US. USAToday. 3 February 2017. Retrieved from

The Guardian (2017). Muslim-majority countries show anger at Trump travel ban.  January 29, 2017. Retrieved from

The University of Oxford (2015). International trends in higher education 2015. Retrieved from

Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2016-2017. Retrieved from!/page/0/length/25/sort_by/rank/sort_order/asc/cols/stats

Threat to International Student Mobility

6 thoughts on “Threat to International Student Mobility

  1. realchez says:

    Students are already scared. There is definately a ripple effect. Persons are now scared to apply to universities in the United States. DeRuy (2017) sums it up and states “in the aftermath of the Trump administration’s executive order temporarily banning immigration from a number of Muslim-majority countries to the United States, universities and scholars across the country are grappling with what the restrictions mean for their students—and for scholarship more broadly.” Additionally, “international students provide an economic boon to colleges and the surrounding areas. Students from other countries often pay full tuition prices at U.S. colleges and universities, which allows those schools to provide financial aid and scholarships to students in need.” Doesnt this mean less money for the US… and is it really worth it? What is going on in the land of the free?

    “Oh, thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
    Between their loved home and the war’s desolation!
    Bless with victory and peace, may the heav’rescued land
    Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation!
    Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
    And this be our motto: “In God is our trust”:
    And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
    O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.”



    1. verinica5 says:

      it may be true that there is a threat to students’ mobility. let us view this positively. Why was President Trump imposing a ban on these seven Muslim states? Do you think the ban was intended to hinder students’ mobility. Or was in an an attempt to protect the space from what the President deems radical Islam. Doubtlessly, the majority of Muslims are God fearing and peaceful, but would you want to be in the crowd when someone blows himself up.

      Higher education institutions are here to stay and they will fight back and they did. Consequently Seventeen (17) universities have gotten together to legally challenge President Trump’s travel ban. The United States and the United Kingdom are the primary places that international students seek to access for study. Students from Asia, the Caribbean as these countries houses the traditional top universities such as the Oxford, the Yale and the’ MIT ‘ President Obama tried to attract brilliant people. While IT seems the President Trump policy is derailing what the former President put in place. However let us look and watch as the Universities will trump

      Of note remember that the United States emerged or grew out of migration of people to a place once occupied by Amerindians.How can that change overnight ? I am suggesting it cannot.



  2. shenzhem says:

    KW you have raised an important issue – Threat to International Student Mobility- in light of what has happened since President Trump has taken office. It is indeed a scary moment for students who aspire to complete their university education in the USA and certainly has implications for the Caribbean region.

    In light of this threat, the Caribbean HEIs would need to align students with other options to complete their degrees elsewhere. By developing partnerships with East, going beyond the Western region. HEIs in the Caribbean would also need to open up access or rather capitalize on the threat and the possible closure of US borders, by attracting students from these “banned” countries to enrol in HEIs in the Caribbean. This could be done by offering attractive packages to these students- affordable tuition fees and accommodation on campus and promoting the cultural experience package. HEIs like the UWI would need to extend or rather increase its recruitment to the East.

    Financially, the US would suffer a decrease in terms of international students’ tuition fees, for the Caribbean this would increase, if these students were to study here. HEIs in the Caribbean would also need to evaluate their programmes or rather ensure that they are offering quality and innovative and relevant 21st century programmes that would attract these international students.

    The relevant stakeholders in light of this possible threat, would have to go back to the drawing board and strategically plan as to how to reduce any possible impact that this threat may have on the Caribbean – especially while President Trump remains in office.

    So much more to say on this issue.


  3. trevis24 says:

    Funny enough i often speak about these issues with my students and they are yet to comprehend the magnitude to which the new president can and will higher development for many countries. But in our discourse I realized something of great importance, the new president is like a multinational cooperation. Meaning his actions, questionable as they may be, will force other nations to become more efficient in the world of Higher Education and development. When the US close its doors to international students, it leaves room for other countries to open theirs and benefit from the revenues that the US has closed their doors to.

    Similarly, the fact that the US withdrew from the Trans-Pacific Trade Deal has loosen their ties and trading agreement with Asians countries like Japan and China, who are some of the world’s largest manufacturers. Unknowingly, this has left room for Canada to sweep in and reap the benefits of trading with these Asia countries hence promoting development in their country. Saying that to say, if Lesser developed countries and other more developed countries wants to gain an additional income, now is the time to ensure their educational programmes are accredited and recognized outside their country. For example the University of the West Indies and China; University of the West Indies Degrees are now holds the same merit in China as degrees obtained in China. What we ought to realize is that, what hinders development for one country, promotes development for another in some causes. This is one of those rare cases.

    If the US wants to create a ban that affects their GDP that’s most unfortunate, but others will be able to benefit from this unwise decision. I now challenge other countries to market their higher education institutions to these affected countries [students], providing their programmes are in good standing internationally.


  4. I think that the recent developments with the travel ban and how international students are turning more and more away from the US will force the american Universities to push their wall-less university agenda where they try to offer more programmes online and through distance learning. This may be the only way they would be able to remain competitive and retain a certain number of international students, albeit that the students wont be physically attending the universities.

    As it relates to Jamaica capitalizing on these events, we have to be mindful that Jamaica although Jamaica has proven time and time to be a very good tourist destination, it has not always been the best international student destination. Many regional and international students do not always have pleasant experiences while attending universities in Jamaica. From xenophobia and discrimination to being robbed and swindled, non-Jamaican students face ills that not only affect them mentally and emotionally, but inadvertently affect their performance in schools. While these experiences may not be known to the jamaican counterparts, they are well known within the non-jamaican student community. Therefore Jamaica would need to do alot of work for it to really capitalize on the movement of international students away from the USA as it isn’t necessarily non-discriminatory.


  5. ventomspecial says:

    Wow! This is an interesting topic indeed; so many unanswered questions that left us ‘hang-in-the-balance’ hoping for the best for our children and our children’s children, who are desirous to waiver our education system to be educated in a country such as the USA. I personally believe that the aftermath of the Trump administration’s executive order temporarily banning immigration from a number of Muslim-majority countries to the United States universities and scholars across the country is really a grave concern and one that should not be taken lightly, which may have a ripple effect on other nations including the Caribbean.

    According to the Trump administration, the visa ban is supposed “to make America safe again”. This statement has become a household phrase in the USA and Trump is determined to fulfill his long awaited dream and so the onus is on us to do some retrospection and reshape her motive as it regards moving forward in higher education.

    I agree with Shenzhem that “financially, the US would suffer a decrease in terms of international students’ tuition fees, for the Caribbean this would increase, if these students were to study here”. Hence, I believe the spotlight is now on us (Government, School Administrators and other stakeholders) to step up to the plate by re-engineering our universities, making them international standard in order to attract prospective students to buy into the vision of higher education in Jamaica. This is will also increase the economic status of the country.


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