Advising in the Face of Uncertainty

January 30, 2017

By Dan Berger

After the recent executive orders from President Trump, this blog provides some tips on advising in the face of uncertainty.

There are detailed, practical resources produced by NAFSA that will continue to be updated. NAFSA also cites other reputable resources available for you to use and refer to. This is more critical than ever because of the amount of misinformation and rumors circulating.

Do not be afraid to say I don’t know or I’m not sure.

The executive orders were not carefully drafted, the interpretation by the government has been changing, and the courts are now involved. We can express strong support for our international populations even if we cannot give them direct and immediate advice. Some schools may decide to refer difficult cases to immigration attorneys or nonprofit organizations.

You are not alone, companies are facing the same issues of advising in a time of uncertainty.

This quote from Republican Senator Lindsey Graham helps explain why it is taking time to figure out what is going on:

"It is clear from the confusion at our airports across the nation that President Trump’s executive order was not properly vetted. We are particularly concerned by reports that this order went into effect with little to no consultation with the Departments of State, Defense, Justice, and Homeland Security."

For the short and long term, focus on connections.

Good communication and working relationships will be key to responding to situations. In particular, keep in regular touch with:

  • Your government relations office and general counsel to share NAFSA updates and difficult situations.
  • Your government relations office and general counsel (or other designated institutional stakeholders on campus) to determine if your institution wants to be involved in sharing examples of impacted students and scholars, and requesting direct assistance.
  • Your local CBP office, to ask for advice on particular individuals traveling, and to have contact if there is a problem.
  • Local nonprofits, who may be active in advising on travel and the executive order, or meeting people at the airport with attorneys. See immigrationlawhelp.org or aclu.org.

Use NAFSA’s IssueNet platform to share good examples of institutional response, not just problems.

IssueNet is a tool available to NAFSA members and non-members. If you see or have a particularly good institutional response - a website, e-mail to students, update for administrators - please submit them. These can be models for other schools that NAFSA can share. As just one example of many good institutional responses, here is a statement from a University president.

Look to others who have been there before.

Many NAFSA members have been through crises, or times of major regulatory uncertainty. It can be a challenge to keep calm to support your international population when tension is rising. Seek out NAFSA leaders and experienced members for advice and empathy!

Prioritize.

It will be a while, maybe a long while, before the situation settles. Don’t try to come up with a comprehensive strategy right away. People who have plane tickets in the next few days or week need immediate attention. Others may have to wait for you to have more time, and for there to be more information. You will have to decide on your campus what advice you feel comfortable giving, and when to refer to an immigration attorney or nonprofit legal aid organization.

In particular, as of today, you can divide your international population into three categories:

  • People who were not born in and are not a citizen of a predominantly Muslim country. They may be worried by what they see in the news, but they are not affected by the executive orders. For example, an F-1 student from India could be advised the same as before the executive order.
  • People who were born in or are a citizen of a predominantly Muslim country who were NOT born in or are a citizen of Yemen, Syria, Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Somalia, or Libya. They are not specifically targeted by the executive order. However, it is possible that there could be additional scrutiny based on some vague language. For example, an H-1B visa holder from Pakistan may still be at risk for an extended security delay or interrogation on entry. That is not new, and your advising may be similar to what it was before the executive orders.
  • People who were born in or are a citizen of Yemen, Syria, Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Somalia, or Libya. Here is the great uncertainty. Those in the United States should avoid any nonessential travel. For those outside the United States, you should review the regulatory update from NAFSA and consult with an immigration attorney or nonprofit for advice as the situation evolves.

Remember, the executive order does not impact your ability as an adviser to issue documents to these students. However, if you are asked to issue an I-20 or DS-2019 for a new admission to a student from one of the seven countries listed, you should make it clear that you are not sure when or if the person will be able to obtain a visa or enter the United States, and you should develop a policy on whether you will defer admission if there are delays.


Dan Berger is a partner at the Massachusetts law firm of Curran & Berger and regulatory practice coordinator for NAFSA's Knowledge Community for International Student and Scholar Services.


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