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Billings higher education officials are reaffirming their support for international students this week following President Donald Trump's travel ban.

Trump's executive order barred visitors from seven countries — Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen — where residents predominantly follow Islam. The order restricted all entry from those countries for 90 days and suspended refugee admissions for 120 days.

The international students at Rocky Mountain College and Montana State University Billings, who arrived through a vetting process for student visas, will likely attend school as usual over the length of the ban.

It's still unclear how the order will affect international recruiting and, more importantly, the likelihood for foreign students to attend American colleges in the future.

"In the short term, it's not a big hassle for our students," said Paul Foster, executive director of the Office of International Studies at MSUB. "It's just maybe portending something in the works for the future."

There are 18 students attending MSUB and three faculty or staff members who came from the seven countries under Trump's order, Foster said.

There are around two students from those countries at Rocky Mountain College, said Amber West Martin, director of international programs.

They're among about 1,600 international students in the Montana University System who arrived with student visas after applying through the U.S. Department of State.

There have been smaller issues here and there. Foster said there were students who were advised against going to Canada on spring break, because they wouldn't have been able to re-enter the United States.

West Martin said that even without Trump's order, she generally counsels students to avoid lots of international travel to avoid customs snafus that could jeopardize their education.

“My usual advice to them is don’t try to travel out of the United States on a regular basis when you're in school,” she said.

Larger incidents, like family emergencies, that would be further complicated by the travel order haven't yet come up at MSUB or Rocky.

Campus support

That's not to say that the campuses are free of anxieties. Foster said that while there haven't been incidents of open hostility toward Muslim students, he described the mood as "spooked" after their fellow countrymen and women were deemed too risky to enter the United States.

“Some of them are thinking of leaving," Foster said. "Some of them are thinking, 'This isn’t good. I need to get home.'”

Both schools offered extra support for international students this week. The MSUB Office of International Studies held an informal meeting with students on Monday and announced flexible office hours to lend any help. 

A bulletin released on Monday by interim MSUB Chancellor Ron Larsen advised students from those seven countries not to travel outside of the country.

With a smaller group of students at Rocky, West Martin said she's in contact with those students nearly daily, and things have been fairly normal. College President Robert Wilmouth's office reaffirmed its support to the larger campus community.

"We’ve reached out from the president’s office to make sure that we support everyone here on campus,” West Martin said.

It remains to be seen what effect Trump's order will have in the future. Foster said that there were as many as five international students from those seven countries who had planned to apply for visas and come to school in May. Those students might be reconsidering.

“It does affect the way we recruit internationally,” he said.

Alternatively, it may affect American students' ability to study abroad. Many student visa agreements are reciprocal, West Martin said.

But now, less than a week out from the travel order, students are just trying to make grades.

Monday's bulletin from interim Chancellor Larsen said that the university's support for international students, staff and faculty "will not waver."


General Assignment Reporter

Reporter for The Billings Gazette.