Welcoming Immigrants and Refugees: Emerging Trends in U.S. Higher Education - Part 1: Challenges

Part I: Challenges

For many of us working within the field of international education, 2017 was a year filled with uncertainty and confusion. It was even more difficult for people coming to the U.S. Yet, they persevered. They arrived ready to start a new life, further their education, advance careers, or find refuge for themselves and their families.

Policy Challenges

Our diversity makes us stronger, more innovative, and more creative. -Elizabeth WarrenWe know that the U.S. has welcomed over 3,000,000 refugees since 1975. Immigration and refugee policy challenges are not new. Yet, what we saw and heard in 2017 was disheartening: refugee bans, litigation, extreme vetting policies. Despite the confusion that emerged, academic institutions and nonprofit organizations continued to welcome and support immigrants, refugees, and international students. This rhetoric and confusion will continue to present challenges in 2018 and beyond, but the support of those newcomers will continue, too.

Refugees can get lost in the mix when attempting to further their education, though they may be green card holders or even U.S. citizens. We know, however, that allowing refugees into the U.S. fosters goodwill. Likewise, welcoming refugees offers them a chance at a safer life, contributes to the U.S. economy, and enhances our communities. International student visa holders add to this richness of cultural exchange and contribute to the economic strength of the U.S.

How, then, have institutions of higher education and nonprofit organizations been working to advocate for and support incoming international people? To answer this, we must look at what difficulties students and/or refugees face when applying for school in the U.S.

Documentation Challenges

Do I have a sealed copy of my transcript from 15 years ago?We don’t have much control over Federal policy or litigation. Yet, in evaluating academic credentials for admissions purposes, we have the power to look more closely at documentation challenges for refugees, immigrants, and international students to create a smoother pathway.

One thing to always keep in mind is that not every refugee or potential student has the same story. Some people have more time and resources to make their transition smoother. Regardless, not everyone is stepping out of their home for the last time, saying, “Do I have a sealed copy of my transcript from 15 years ago?”

Other Challenges

Refugees and students may face many challenges when applying for credential evaluations and admissions. For instance, periods of education could have had unforeseen interruptions. Institutions close due to environmental disasters, labor strikes, and conflict. Also, students may be unable to provide official proof of educational achievements. In some countries a student is only issued one diploma or one set of transcripts. If lost, it may be near impossible for the student to obtain additional copies. In some cases they may only have unofficial documents. People may come with documents that are not related to academics because theirs have been lost, but the documents they do possess can provide a sense of the person's accomplishments. Finally, when speaking of refugees, the student may have attended a school within a refugee camp. These types of schools can be tricky to verify. Who is running the program? Is the school considered accredited?

These are just a few of the policy and documentation challenges students and refugees face. It is up to international education professionals to create policies and guidelines that work for their institution or organization that are flexible but do not damage the integrity of the institution.

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Zachary Holochwost is a Research & Knowledge Management Evaluator and has been with ECE since 2006. He also oversees ECE’s philanthropic initiative as ECE® Aid Administrator.



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