Posted: April 26, 2017 at 12:31 am

By LaDonna Adams, Shannon Cunningham, and Hilary Kinney

Many international students at West Virginia University have been worrying about how President Trump’s immigration ban and his future policies can affect their futures at WVU. Wenyi (Zoey) Du, an International Ambassador and undergrad student at WVU, says even though she is from China and not directly impacted by the ban, she does fear that it will expand to affect more areas.

Having international friends from countries that are listed on the ban, Du said her initial response after hearing about the ban was to worry for them. “I don’t have many local friends, but one of my friends, he has been graduated for two years, he texted me after the ban and said he just wanted to make I was safe. That was so sweet.”

Several students have brought their questions and concerns to WVU’s Office of International Students and Scholars. These include “What if they want to go home in the summer and the ban persists? What if they want to travel anywhere, even not to go home, but anywhere? Do they need an attorney?”

Initial Response

Many foreigners’ visas were temporarily revoked, which caused panic for many students who go to school in the United States on F-1, J-1, and M-1 non-immigrant visas. According to the Institute of International Education, in the 2015-16 school year, there were around 17, 354 international students from the seven countries enrolled in colleges and universities in the United States. WVU currently has 129 students and 12 scholars (researchers or faculty) from these affected countries, with students from Iran being the highest.

Within the first 24-48 hours of the ban being put into place, WVU responded by letting students know what the implications were, where to receive help if needed, and instructing them to remain calm and not to make any travel plans until they knew more information. Advisor and SEVIS Coordinator Ruby Pentsil-Bukari describes the actions taken after the first ban, “We assured them we are sorting through what the ban means and will send them out information, and offered to meet with the students. We then sent out a follow-up and met with all international students on the following Monday for a forum.”

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How This Will Affect Travel Plans

Students are advised that if they want to travel anywhere, inside or outside the U.S., to make sure they have their passports and visas with them at all times. “If you are stopped, you want to prove right away that this is why you are here,” explains Pentsil-Bukari. “Even though the seven countries were mentioned, it impacts more then the seven countries because students not from these areas may have traveled to any of these countries. From the reports we were receiving, if you had anything to do with any of these countries, you would be stopped, detained, or not let in.”

Du’s job as an International Ambassador has her frequently communicating with potential international students who have many questions and concerns about the safety of WVU’s campus and atmosphere. Her response is this, “WVU’s trying their best to keep students safe so they can do whatever they want to do. WVU’s offering the same opportunity to you no matter where you come from, what you’re religion or belief, it doesn’t matter.”

How It’s Affecting Graduation and Job Experience

Like Du, those international students who will be graduating at the end of the semester have special concerns as well. Pentsil-Bukari advises students who have family flying in for graduation events this semester to not schedule flights or make plans until the last possible second. However, some students are still worried about their family members traveling into the U.S. Du said her parents will not be attending her graduation in May. “I did not want my parents to get in trouble so there’s nobody coming to my graduation ceremony, which is really sad. If the policy changes during the period they are coming, they don’t really speak English, maybe they get in trouble,” explains Du.

International Admissions Counselor Sarah Ma defines one worry on several students’ minds, Optional Practical Training. “The U.S. has a nice policy where after you finish your degree they’ll extend your visa for a period of time so that you can work in the U.S.” However, that time period allotted for OPT is in question right now and is causing many students to panic and rethink their decisions after graduation. “They increased the price applying for the OPT, which is really a burden for most of the undergraduate students. We are paying more to get the same thing. We were upset about that, but I don’t think it will affect me a lot in job opportunities because after I graduate with master degree I may go back to my country to get a job now,” explains Du.

Looking Towards the Future

In regards to recruitment tactics, Ma explains some of the things they will be focusing on more since the ban. “Some of the things I’m looking at a little bit more this year that I didn’t last year was recruiting international students who already live in the U.S. Because of these travel bans and we don’t know the future, I think it’s really important to recognize the huge international population that already exists in the U.S. I think with this travel ban, most people are afraid to go anywhere. Like an Iranian student, if they lived in the U.S. right now they wouldn’t be going back home because you don’t know if you can come back. So I think focusing on who’s here already is also important.”

She mentioned being more flexible and creative in whom they recruit to help diversify WVU, as well as sending messages that we’re a safe and welcoming university. They are also stressing to students to allow themselves more time this year when applying for visas, as they don’t know how long it will take or what policies will change. Students were not just worried about their schooling but also about how they will be perceived by others because of this ban. “I didn’t really meet someone really mean to me, but they kind of feel I don’t want to talk to internationals,” stated Du.


Du has been here for 3 years working on getting her bachelor’s in psychology. She has decided after graduation in May, she will be applying to get her master’s in education because she wants to help cognitive delayed children. “I have pretty positive feelings about all things WVU. I’m applying for the master’s here. I like it here, except the winter.”

About a week ago, President Trump issued a list of revisions to the ban that included no longer affecting students with valid F, M, or J visas. However, students still need to check with the Office of International Students and Scholars before making any travel plans. If any student who has questions or concerns should feel free to contact someone in the office via phone or email.  

 

 


 

Ahmed Ujam, a West Virginia University student, knows firsthand the stress and uncertainty that has come from the recent travel bans placed on travelers from countries in the Middle East. Born in Baghdad, Iraq, Ujam’s family sought asylum in the United States and is now concerned about their futures in America.

Since President Trump’s administration took office in January, two travel bans restricting travel from seven countries have been implemented. The original applied to individuals traveling from Iran, Somalia, Sudan, Yemen, Syria, Libya and Iraq.

Although the second applies to six of the seven countries and Iraq was removed from the language of the executive order taking into consideration Iraq’s role in combating terrorism and ISIS, Ujam is still worried about what may come next.

“It’s still uncertain because Iraq can be added back just as easy as it was to remove it from the ban, Ujam said. “And it it’s still sad because I’m pretty sure there are a lot of people that will suffer from it.”

Growing up, Ujam experienced a way of life that he thought was normal for people around the world.

His father, a photojournalist who worked with the Associated Press and the United States Army covering the war in Iraq, became a target for bombings and violent attacks. His family’s home was bombed, as well as his father’s car. His father miraculously survived an attack when a bullet entered the side of his vehicle door.

“I was staying at home all the time, homeschool, kind of,” Ujam said. “It wasn’t safe for me to go to school, so I had little interaction with people. No social skills whatsoever.”

In 2007, recognizing the danger they were in, Ujam’s family moved to Dubai. As a 13-year-old, the move was challenging because of his time in Iraq not being able to attend school. However, he discovered a different world outside the bombings and kidnappings his family experienced back home.

“When you are raised back there [in Iraq], you kind of just accept it right away,” Ujam said. “You don’t know that there’s a different world. You don’t know that you can stay up to 1a.m. outside the house. It’s different, and you don’t know there’s another world where you can be free without being scared of anything.”

When the time for Ujam to attend a university rolled around, he chose to attend West Virginia University to study mechanical and aerospace engineering. According to him, in Dubai, it is popular for students to look for programs in the United States, United Kingdom or Canada.

Although his family is all over the world, his mother and father now live in Virginia. They were able to receive asylum status last year after his mom was diagnosed with stage four breast cancer. Due to her condition, Ujam has taken off a semester to spend a few months with her.

His was at home with his mom in Virginia when he found out about the first travel ban.

“It was awful because it kind of ruined all of my father’s plans of going back to sort himself and come back to stay with my mom,” Ujam said. However, he added, “I got a lot of support messages from people that I knew within the university.”

Originally, the travel ban restricted Ujam’s aunt from coming to the U.S. to visit her children and her sister, Ujam’s mother. Since the first was lifted, she has since been able to come to visit her family here.

Although the second travel ban lifts limitations on travelers from Iraq, he believes there is still a misconception of who is considered “dangerous.”

“People should know that Islam itself says that killing innocent people is wrong. So, people who do that are not Muslim,” Ujam said. “Maybe they call themselves Muslim, but they’re not.”

Some of Ujam’s friends voted for President Trump, and talking about the policies being administered can be challenging, but Ujam is up front and honest when discussing his background and the ways in which citizens from the Middle East and Muslims are portrayed and viewed.

“One friend, who actually voted for Trump, I asked him, ‘Do you think I’m dangerous? Do you think I’m a terrorist? Do you think I am at risk of doing anything?’” Ujam said. “And everyone says no. But, what can you do?”

For some, the perspective of and conversation regarding America and who can call America home has shifted.

“Ten years ago, everyone would always say, ‘America is the place to go. If you want to be safe, if you want to escape everything, you can go there and they’ll protect you,’ Ujam said. “Especially in our case where my dad worked for the American government. And now, seeing all that, it just makes you feel like there is nowhere to go,” he continued.

“I can’t go back home,  I can’t stay here so, like, you’re lost. There is literally nowhere to go. Go back home to all the threats or stay here and get kicked out at some point. There’s no safe place right now.”