What it has been like as an international student during the US election

International students in the US have been carefully watching the election wondering what the outcome will mean for them writes Joe Peck

November 11 2020
US election, study abroad, study in the US, Joe Biden, Donald Trump

I wasn’t worried about the US election when the big day finally rolled around. If anything, I was feeling rather jubilant. The gaffe-prone former vice-president Joe Biden had avoided any major slip-ups and appeared well on his way to the White House.

The president, on the other hand, was faring worse in the polls than any incumbent since 1932. So, as the early results from Florida started pouring in, my friends and I expected to celebrate the night away.

After about an hour, a nervous feeling in the pit of my stomach kicked in. How can this be happening again? Is this happening again? Is this right? It was still early in the night, and I was worrying myself over trend lines that did not necessarily translate to final results. Or so I told myself. Nothing was totally clear apart from one thing: it would be a long night.

Little did I know in that moment that the long night would grow into several anxious days. “Déjà vu?” my friend had texted me the night before, when the initial returns pointed to a close election and the prospect of a Trump win. In a way, yes, I thought, but not quite.

The stakes were so much higher this time. Only five months before, on 6 July, the Trump administration had attempted to ban international students from remaining in the United States, separating those like me from their friends, partners and future careers.


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Every international student I know remembers where they were when they received the news, and how they were plagued by worry in the chaotic week that followed. Although the order was subsequently struck down in court, it did not take away the pain of the administration’s attempt to remove us. 

Throughout the five long days of vote counting, I kept thinking back to that moment in July. As races across the country veered one way and another, so did my level of worry. I had banked some of my hope on Joe Biden’s immigration plan, which promised to make it easier for graduates to remain in the US after their studies.

But by Friday morning it seemed as if Democrats would not win back the Senate, so any change to America’s archaic and hostile immigration system became unlikely. Now all that mattered was for Trump to be defeated.

Worry is a heavy burden and even as the race leant increasingly towards Biden, it would not desist. I regularly updated the results page of the New York Times, as millions of people had been doing for days, and remained nervous until the last moment.

Then, when the race was called on Saturday morning, I felt a relief I had not felt since the court order in July. Sitting in a café, I read those big, beautiful lines: “Biden beats Trump” and breathed a sigh of relief. I gestured to a stranger nearby and, in the absence of any profound thought, simply said: “That’s good.” I couldn’t stop smiling.

The administration’s attack on international students would not have lessened under any scenario other than a Biden win. Only last month, Immigration and Customs Enforcement revealed plans to end the longstanding “duration of status” visa policy that allows international students to stay in the United States until they complete their degree.

I would urge anyone to study in the United States. It is a beautiful, multifaceted, pluralistic country with some of the most wonderfully generous and charitable people in the world. It is also a complicated country, and not a perfect one. Nevertheless, its future is bright, as it is for those who come to study here.

Read more: Best universities in the United States

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