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International student alumni in the U.S.: Making a difference at the community, state and national level

Current and former international students live and work across the entire U.S., in large cities as well as small towns. Here we share the stories of ten individuals whose daily work in key areas contributes to U.S. communities and society.

Sen Li


Sen Li, international student from China and MAVNI (Military Accessions Vital to National Interest) recruit

Sen Li came to the U.S. from China in 2013 to pursue his master’s degree in biomedical engineering at Binghamton University in New York. Two years into his program, Sen learned of the U.S. Army program called MAVNI (Military Accessions Vital to National Interest) which recruits non-citizens who are legally present in the country and who have special language skills to serve in the army. Sen saw this as a great opportunity to contribute to what he views as the “greatest nation in the world,” and because he is proficient in Mandarin and English and also has a strong medical background. Sen was enlisted as a combat medical soldier in January 2016. However, in 2017 the Department of Homeland Security added additional stringent background checks for MAVNI enlistees and–despite having cleared all required background checks initially—Sen Li found himself embroiled in delays, additional scrutiny, and even unfavorable counterintelligence interview results of pre-existing foreign contacts or having received foreign money (mostly from family back in China). This seemed contradictory to Sen as the MAVNI program is designed to recruit highly educated immigrants who would likely have some foreign contacts, if only because of their prior professional training or because as foreign students they were relying on their family’s funds to be able to study in the U.S.

At the time of this writing, Sen Li’s background investigation case continues to languish. After three years of waiting and uncertainty, he and other similar Chinese MAVNI recruits fear deportation charges because of having run out of status as international students; have been attacked by some Chinese groups for being traitors to their homeland; and fear dire consequences if they return to China. Fortunately, Sen Li has been informed that he is eligible to apply for asylum; filed his asylum case in February 2019; and is scheduled for a court hearing in January 2022.