For Economics Ph.D. student Martin Aragoneses, the first three days after finding out about a new policy from Immigration and Customs Enforcement that would have required him to leave the country in the fall were “tough.”
“I literally had the same feeling in your stomach you have when somebody dies,” he said. “You feel lost. You feel unwanted. You feel so much uncertainty about your future, about the country that’s given you so many opportunities, and where you’ve learned as a human being, and an economist, and as a person — now someone is trying to kick you out of it.”
But after his initial grief and shock, Aragoneses decided to use what he has learned as an Economics student to address the issue.
He started by calculating the financial impact of the policy on him, weighing a number of considerations: he had just signed a two-year lease and furnished his apartment.
Then, using the framework from his own personal calculations, Aragoneses developed a survey to distribute to other international students, which he launched on Sunday. Within 36 hours, more than 1,000 international students had responded.
Aragoneses and a team of other students worked from 8 p.m. Monday to 8 a.m. Tuesday — a feat they compared to completing late-night problem sets in their first year of graduate school — to crunch the numbers and come up with preliminary results.
They found the policy would have cost the average international student more than $20,000, a sum that Aragoneses, who is from Spain, said was similar to the amount he calculated for himself. Some students could face significantly more, though — up to $40,000 in costs.
Under the policy — which the government agreed to rescind on Tuesday — international students would have been required to transfer to a college or university offering in-person courses or leave the country. If they do not, they risk facing “immigration consequences” including “removal proceedings.”
The preliminary survey results comprise 1,040 students, approximately one-third of whom are undergraduates, one-third of whom are masters students, and one-third of whom are doctoral students. They represent institutions including Harvard, Princeton, Yale, MIT, University of Chicago, and the University of California system, among others.
Of those surveyed, a vast majority of the students are currently located in the U.S. And like Aragoneses, a majority of them are locked into a lease agreement, the single largest source of potential financial strain they reported.
Around 40 percent of students also reported not having internet access in their home countries, according to preliminary estimates.
The survey also found that if implemented, policy could have reduced the likelihood that students would remain in the United States to pursue further education, perform research, and work at a company or startup by up to 50 percent.
Both Aragoneses and Robert Minton, another Economics graduate student who worked on the project, counted those findings among the team’s most significant.
“One is pursuing further advanced studies in the U.S., and we find that reduces the likelihood of that event for 83.3 percent of respondents,” Minton said, citing early estimates of preliminary data. “For working for a U.S. company in the future, it lowers the likelihood for 83.4 percent of respondents.”
“This policy will first put a tax on them economically, but then also put a tax on them emotionally, and raise future uncertainty about staying,” Aragoneses added.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce — along with companies like Facebook, Twitter, Microsoft, Boston Consulting Group, and Paypal — made a similar argument about the “critical” nature of international students in the workforce in an amicus brief filed Monday.
Ultimately, Aragoneses said he believes the magnitude of the policy extended far beyond its financial impact.
“It's not just about finances and good numbers, it's about people that feel a huge strain and are in for a very, very tough time,” he said. “ I think that's very very real, and I feel that in my own bones.”
—Staff writer Camille G. Caldera can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @camille_caldera.
—Staff writer Michelle G. Kurilla can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @MichelleKurilla.