By COLLIN BINKLEY & Joy Wang
Updated: July 07, 2020 10:24 PM
Created: July 06, 2020 03:49 PM
International students will be forced to leave the U.S. or transfer to another college if their schools offer classes entirely online this fall, under new guidelines issued Monday by federal immigration authorities.
The guidelines, issued by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, provide additional pressure for universities to reopen even amid growing concerns about the recent spread of COVID-19 among young adults. Colleges received the guidance the same day that some institutions, including Harvard University, announced that all instruction will be offered remotely.
President Donald Trump has insisted that schools and colleges return to in-person instruction as soon as possible. Soon after the guidance was released, Trump repeated on Twitter that schools must reopen this fall, adding that Democrats want to keep schools closed "for political reasons, not for health reasons."
"They think it will help them in November. Wrong, the people get it!" Trump wrote.
Under the updated rules, international students must take at least some of their classes in person. New visas will not be issued to students at schools or programs that are entirely online. And even at colleges offering a mix of in-person and online courses this fall, international students will be barred from taking all their classes online.
It creates an urgent dilemma for thousands of international students who became stranded in the U.S. last spring after the coronavirus forced their schools to move online. Those attending schools that are staying online must "depart the country or take other measures, such as transferring to a school with in-person instruction," according to the guidance.
The American Council on Education, which represents university presidents, said the guidelines are "horrifying" and will result in confusion as schools look for ways to reopen safely.
Of particular concern is a stipulation saying students won't be exempt from the rules even if an outbreak forces their schools online during the fall term. It's unclear what would happen if a student ended up in that scenario but faced travel restrictions from their home country, said Terry Hartle, the council's senior vice president.
"It's going to cause enormous confusion and uncertainty," Hartle said. "ICE is clearly creating an incentive for institutions to reopen, regardless of whether or not the circumstances of the pandemic warrant it."
The international education group NAFSA blasted the rules and said schools should be given the authority to make decisions that are right for their own campuses. It said the guidance "is harmful to international students and puts their health and well-being and that of the entire higher education community at risk."
Nearly 400,000 foreigners received student visas in the 12-month period that ended Sept. 30, down more than 40% from four years earlier. School administrations partly blame visa processing delay.
Colleges across the U.S. were already expecting sharp decreases in international enrollment this fall, but losing all international students could be disastrous for some. Many depend on tuition revenue from international students, who typically pay higher tuition rates. Last year, universities in the U.S. attracted nearly 1.1 million students from abroad.
Trump's critics were quick to attack the new guidelines. Sen. Bernie Sanders, the Vermont independent, said the "cruelty of this White House knows no bounds."
"Foreign students are being threatened with a choice: risk your life going to class in-person or get deported," Sanders said in a tweet. "We must stand up to Trump's bigotry. We must keep all our students safe."
Dozens of colleges have said they plan to offer at least some classes in person this fall, but some say it's too risky. The University of Southern California last week reversed course on a plan to bring students to campus, saying classes will be hosted primarily or exclusively online. Harvard on Monday said it will invite first-year students to live on campus, but classes will stay online.
Immigration authorities suspended certain requirements for international students early in the pandemic, but colleges were awaiting guidance on what would happen this fall. ICE notified schools of the changes Monday and said a formal rule would be forthcoming.
The announcement was the Trump administration's latest pandemic-related strike against legal immigration. Last month, authorities extended a ban on new green cards to many people outside the United States and expanded the freeze to include many on temporary work permits, including at high-tech companies, multinational corporations and seasonal employers.
The administration has long sought deep cuts to legal immigration, but the goal was elusive before the coronavirus.
According to NAFSA, international students of U.S. colleges and universities contributed $41 billion and supported more than 450,000 jobs to the U.S. economy in the 2018 through 2019 academic school year.
In New Mexico, that's $91 million and 835 jobs supported by thousands of international students who now might not have the option to learn in the United States if their classes are all online.
New Mexico State, UNM, and Eastern New Mexico University are going with a hybrid model this fall with face-to-face as well as online schooling.
University of New Mexico President Garnett Stokes issued the following statement about the new guidelines:
"I am extremely disappointed in the rule issued yesterday by the Department of Homeland Security that prohibits international students from remaining in the United States if they attend classes as part of an online-only curriculum for the Fall 2020 semester. Our international students are a vital part of The University of New Mexico, conducting important research and contributing to our classroom culture. They are also a vibrant part of our University community and our overall Lobo DNA. Their absence from our classrooms, labs, and community would diminish us all.
Further, during a pandemic, when the health and safety of our students is of the utmost concern, it is irresponsible to deny any university or its students the option of going entirely to remote instruction in the interest of public health and safety. This mandate issued by DHS hamstrings The University of New Mexico and other colleges and universities in our ability to provide a quality education in the safest and most appropriate learning environment."
ASUNM President Mia Amin's statement:
“This action shows complete disregard for human life and fails to acknowledge that international students assume roles beyond that of a “student” within our community. I am appalled that the nation that these students placed their trust in is basically saying that you are no longer welcome here.”
Central New Mexico Community College's statement:
“CNM has fewer than 30 international students on M1 or F1 visas who could potentially be impacted by the new Department of Homeland Security rule. Since CNM’s Fall Term registration only recently began, we do not know yet whether these students intend to take online or in-person classes. Since the announcement by the federal government on Monday, CNM has started working with these students to determine their best options.”
Office of the Governor's statement:
The newly announced ICE policy regarding international students is wholly unnecessary and disturbingly punitive. Students have already jumped through countless administrative hoops to be here, furthering their studies and contributing to American and New Mexican academics, and they absolutely deserve the right to be able to continue to do so, just like their classmates. The Trump administration's change in policy is cruel and unmerited.
(Copyright 2020 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)