On July 6, 2020, ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) modified a policy that requires international students to leave the country if their university/college classes are online. This decision is clearly designed to put pressure on colleges and universities to reopen, even when COVID-19 cases are rising. For international students, this decision is devastating. Some, from countries like China, couldn’t even get back into the U.S. even if classes were in-person. Others have to decide between risking their lives traveling through different countries and airports to reach the United States and continuing their education at their current university. This decision isn’t affecting a small number of people: an estimated 1.2 million students (as of March 2018) hold the affected visas.
I was heartbroken about this ruling. As the child of an immigrant who came to the U.S. for college on the F-1 visa, I am only alive because my father was allowed to stay and finish his education. I wouldn’t be alive had my father been forced to return to his home country or have his visa revoked.
Sadly, this policy isn’t entirely new. The government generally does require international studies to take most of their classes in-person. This rule was amended in March when most universities sent all of their students home. Many colleges would have assumed they would have continued to amend the policy, given COVID-19 cases have increased rapidly in the United States.
What is happening?
Many students are struggling to register for in-person classes since they are already full or do not exist at their school. Some schools, like NYU, Brown, and Columbia are creating 1-credit classes that will allow students to enroll in in-person classes to protect their visas. Some American students are dropping out of their classes so that international students can register. Harvard, M.I.T, and other colleges are suing the US government because of this ruling. Some students had future plans to continue their education in the United States, but if they were forced to go home and take classes in their home country, their career plans could be put on hold.
This policy also comes at a time when Trump is threatening to pull funding for schools that have deemed it unsafe to reopen in the fall. The NYC public school system, the largest in the country, has decided not to fully reopen in the fall. Instead, they are trying to create a hybrid class situation: students might return 2 days a week in-person in order to sanitize the classrooms. Trump is not in favor of current CDC guidelines for safely reopening schools, calling them “very tough & expensive guidelines”. In reality, Trump cannot completely pull funding from schools choosing to conduct online classes in the fall. 90% of the funding comes from local and state taxes. There is, however, a push for reopening unsafely and a blatant disregard for public health.
How to help:
I urge anyone reading to sign the petitions listed on this website. I also urge you all to contact your legislators and demand that ICE reverse this decision, and allow international students to take online classes due to an unprecedented global pandemic. You can find scripts for calling or emailing your legislators on this Google Doc.