Optimism of uncertainty: What the Biden-Harris victory means for international students

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Media: Adam Schultz

President Elect Joe Biden and Vice President Elect Kamala Harris.

By Jocelyn Yang, Opinion Editor

The whole world has been waiting for this victory — for four years. 

As soon as The Associated Press called that Democratic nominee Joe Biden won the electoral vote of his native Pennsylvania, pushing him over the 270 electoral-vote threshold on November 7, my phone didn’t stop buzzing. Messages came from my family and friends back home in China, saying things like “Congrats to you, America, and the entire world!” 

Since 2016, many people have kept faith that this day would eventually come. It felt more like a matter of when, rather than if. But to me, it was still somehow surreal when I saw the green checkmark next to Biden’s name over Donald Trump’s. 

As one of a million international students in the U.S., I’m glad we’ve won our own victory. For the past four years, we have been fighting for our rights to study in this country, as the Trump administration repeatedly tried to implement policies that restrict international students’ visas. When Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, announced in July that international students may need to leave the U.S., should their universities transition to online-only learning, many of us grew fearful. Signing petitions and going to protests was the least we could do, since we can’t vote in this country. 

Now, Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris’ win is a blessing for the international student community. Previous regulations, like the Department of Homeland Security’s recent proposal to limit international student visas to four year-periods, that discourage more from applying to American universities, could change under Biden’s administration, according to Stephen Yale-Loehr, a professor of immigration law practice at Cornell University.

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Biden also previously condemned the ICE rule against international students’ learning experience. “Across the world, people come to this country with unrelenting optimism and determination toward the future. They study here, innovate here, they make America who we are,” he tweeted on July 7. For many international students, the arrival of these changes could provide momentum to pursue the American dream. This is the hope. 

As an Asian student, I also cannot wait to see the return of the real leaders who have supported minority communities and will hopefully address these long-term systemic racism issues in this country. I won’t miss Trump calling COVID-19 the “China Virus.” I won’t miss the time an Uber driver asked me multiple times if I am from China and offensively talked about the COVID-19 outbreak during my ride—just because of my Asian-sounding name. I won’t miss seeing news about banning immigration from Muslim-majority countries or building a wall. Biden’s victory may usher in an era of healing the harm the Trump administration inflicted on the BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) and other minority communities.

I deeply resonated with CNN commentator Van Jones when he said that a president’s “character matters.” Joe Biden isn’t perfect. But I’m genuinely happy the results show Americans’ desires of bringing moral character back. We are on the right track. People across the world are cheering for this— for us.

And behind all of the tears, laughs, and celebrations we have this week, we also need to remember this fight isn’t over; it’s just beginning. The U.S. has gradually stepped out of its position as a leader in the past four years. By exiting the Paris Climate Agreement and withdrawing from the World Health Organization, the U.S. has severely faltered, and now there are many steps the country must take to rebuild its image to the world. The day-to-day democratic dialogue should not and will never end. 

I myself have been thinking about how I may now have a promising future in this country after all. Maybe I can finally get some sleep and know that in the morning, everything won’t be as scary as it used to be. I know, as an international student, that the U.S. will have to take time and make the effort to regain the trust of the world. But this victory is a good start.