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PhilJul 1, 2024 9:57:35 AM6 min read

Trump vs. Biden: What’s Ahead for International Students?

As the 2024 U.S. election approaches, many international students and new immigrants are understandably concerned about how the outcome might affect their F1,H1B and green card processes. If you tuned into the first live debate between former President Trump and current President Biden last week, you might have found both candidates’ performances disappointing. Although they are not yet the official nominees for their respective parties, according to NPR’s report on July 1st’s morning, it doesn’t seem either party has a “backup plan”. Therefore, their policies and promises regarding immigration are crucial to consider.

When Donald Trump recently proposed a plan that would automatically grant green cards to foreign graduates of U.S. universities, allowing tens of thousands to bypass the H1B lottery, reactions were decidedly varied. Many of his most ardent supporters, often skeptical of both immigration and higher education, condemned the plan and warned that it would turn U.S. colleges into visa mills.

On the other hand, venture capitalists and tech investors largely applauded the idea, as it would seemingly make it easier for U.S. companies to retain top foreign talent. Yet another common perspective cautioned that we should take Trump’s proposal with a grain of salt, given his hardline immigration policies in the past.

As the 2024 presidential election nears, Trump’s comments have renewed interest in the similarities and differences between his and Joe Biden’s stances on immigration and what this election means for foreign students and workers trying to make a life in the United States.

Examining Trump’s Proposal

Implications for the H1B Lottery

If Trump's proposal to grant automatic green cards to foreign graduates from U.S. colleges is implemented, it could drastically change the H1B visa program. This proposal would give international students a direct way to get permanent residency and reduce their need to enter the H1B lottery.

Traditionally, the H1B visa has been the primary option for foreign graduates to stay and work in the United States after college or grad school. With this new proposal, graduates could avoid the complicated H1B lottery process, which had become stricter under Trump's policies, with more denials and higher wage requirements.

If carried out, Trump’s green card proposal could dramatically reduce USCIS administrative burdens and backlogs for nonimmigrant visas, allowing for faster processing. However, it would require significant shifts in immigration infrastructure to ensure proper vetting for green cards.

Can Trump Be Trusted?

Many observers believe Trump's proposal lacks substance. During his presidency, Trump implemented restrictive immigration policies, including tightening the H1B visa process. This suddenly inclusive proposal contradicts his past actions, raising doubts about its sincerity.

Moreover, implementing the proposal would require significant changes to immigration policy across the board, including a possible overhaul of the H1B lottery system. Some analysts see it as a strategy to appeal to tech stakeholders. They argue Trump aims to gain votes rather than enact real policy change, given the practical challenges and political climate.

H1B Visas Under Trump and Biden

Trump’s Approach to H1B Visas

Trump's immigration policies as president were particularly hostile toward H1B workers. His administration, including key appointees, actively worked against high-skilled foreign nationals. Trump appointees at the USCIS focused on restricting H1B visas, making it harder for foreign scientists and engineers to work in the United States.

Some of these efforts were rooted in pre-Trump legislation, like the Cruz-Sessions bill, which sought to limit H1B visas. Measures included eliminating Optional Practical Training (OPT) for international students and imposing high minimum salaries for workers chosen through the H1B lottery. This led to a significant increase in RFEs and denials, disrupting the lives and careers of many foreign workers.

Despite evidence showing that H1B visa holders boost productivity and contribute to the economy, Trump's policies aimed to reduce their presence. Courts eventually ruled against many of these restrictive policies, but the administration's actions had already caused considerable harm, making it more difficult for high-skilled immigrants to work and live in the United States. Some immigration experts fear that a second Trump term could do the same.

Biden and the H1B Program

During his presidency, Biden has maintained a more complicated relationship with the H1B program. Initially, he promised to reform it to make it harder for companies to bypass American workers. His administration had considered raising wages for H1B workers to reduce the incentive for hiring foreign employees.

Perhaps seeking to balance support for both immigration and U.S. labor, Biden has taken a cautious approach, advocating for moderate reforms to the H1B program. His administration's actions reflect an attempt to address the concerns of both workers and businesses, though achieving significant changes remains difficult in a politically divided environment.

At present, the USCIS under Biden is proposing changes to the H1B visa program that include requiring jobs to need a degree in a “directly related specific specialty” to qualify. This would mean positions must require a specific U.S. bachelor’s or higher degree directly related to the job, which could block many skilled foreign workers.

These changes have sparked concerns among employers and universities. For instance, they oppose labeling business administration degrees as too general for H1B eligibility, fearing it will prevent qualified professionals from working in the United States. This opposition highlights the tension between the new rules and Biden's goal of attracting global talent, particularly in developing fields like artificial intelligence and cloud computing.

Trump vs. Biden: The Impact on Foreign Students

While the future actions of any presidential administration are never certain, we can look at past policies to understand what the future might hold. Under Trump, international students faced many challenges, as his administration tightened H1B visa restrictions and proposed limits on the duration of student visas, adding uncertainty to long-term plans.

As president, Trump aimed to reduce overall immigration, including attempts to end DACA and impose travel bans on certain countries. These actions created a perception of the United States being less welcoming to international students. This environment led to a decline in international student enrollment, as universities reported fewer applications due to the difficulties and perceived hostility.

To some degree, the Biden administration has made efforts to welcome international students by expanding the OPT program and loosening visa restrictions, especially in STEM fields, aiming to attract more international talent.

Overall, Biden’s policies, while imperfect, are likely to create a more favorable environment for international students, providing more opportunities for those wishing to remain in the United States after their studies. 


The upcoming election brings renewed attention to the H1B lottery, presidential attitudes toward immigration, and their impact on foreign students and workers. Comparing Trump's restrictive policies during his presidency with Biden's moderate reforms highlights the differing approaches to international talent in the country.

Regardless of the outcome of the upcoming election, please reach out to us for guidance on navigating the H1B lottery, enrolling in college as an international student, or just exploring your options for staying in the United States. We are here to help you understand and adapt to the evolving immigration landscape.

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Phil Ortmann has years of experience researching and writing about immigration and visa issues, including employment-based and student visas. With a B.A. from the University of Pittsburgh and a master’s degree from Penn State, he has served in multiple roles related to U.S. visas, including as an immigration case manager. He understands that the visa system can be complex and seeks to provide clarity on changing and evolving issues within that system. Outside of his professional efforts, Phil enjoys cooking, literature, baseball, and his occasional attempts at making music.