Alpona Stamboldjiev, an Indian native who advises engineering students at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, fears that some of the school’s most promising graduates won’t invest their skills in the United States economy. “We have a very large population of international students, especially in engineering,” she says. “Now, because of the political climate, some of my students feel unsafe, and they want to go home. There is apprehension in the air.”
Others, she says, would like to go home to visit family but are avoiding those trips for fear they won’t be allowed to return to school. In either case, Alpona says, she believes we will see more students return to their home countries after they finish their education. In fact, 40 percent of U.S. universities have already seen a decline in the number of foreign applications, something that could financially impact American university students, whose education is, in part, subsidized by foreign tuition. “In terms of our economy, we’re going to lose talent,” she says. For example, in the Illinois 12th district, where the university is located, immigrant spending power is $335.4 million, according to New American Economy research.
The powers in Washington need to realize and recognize the talent and contribution of immigrants, rather than painting them as second-rate dwellers in America.
Stamboldjiev is now a U.S. citizen, but she moved to the United States in 2001 on a visa arranged by her American-born fiancé. When she looks back on the process, what she most remembers is long waiting periods and extreme vetting by the U.S. government before she was allowed to enter the country and seek employment. “It took nine months for me to go through the vetting process, and then another five months to get my work authorization,” she says. “When I finally did, I took the first job I could get, at Dillard’s at the mall, just to have the chance to meet people during the day.”
Although Stamboldjiev was a teacher in India, her certifications didn’t apply in the United States, and she had to go back to school before she could re-enter the education workforce. During this time, she perfected two of her hobbies, making jewelry and cooking, both of which she turned into side businesses: Indian Sunshine jewelry and Indian Sunshine Cuisine, a catering company. While she maintains her job at the university, she hopes her businesses have the opportunity to grow. “I’d love to have a food truck someday,” she says. “It’s just a matter of financing.”
Stamboldjiev would like to see immigration reform that improves the process by which foreigners can legally enter the country. She’d also like to see less political rhetoric that discourages educated, hardworking people from pursuing a life in the United States. “I support vetting, I think vetting is good,” Stamboldjiev says. “Security is a concern no matter what country you belong to. But you cannot do it on the basis of religion, it cannot take such extreme amounts of time, and hate-mongering doesn’t help either. The powers in Washington need to realize and recognize the talent and contribution of immigrants, rather than painting them as second-rate dwellers in America.”