ICE rules against international students taking online semesters, gestures towards one academic future

ICE logoThe United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency issued a new policy about international students which could have significant impact on the new academic year.  International student access to American higher education and some campus’ financial sustainability each took a hit.

ICE’s Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP; also SEVIS) now blocks certain international students from taking classes.  Short version: if their program is entirely or mostly online, these would-be learners can’t reside in the US.  As The Hill Puts it, “international students in the U.S. whose schools switch to online classes for the fall semester will have to leave the country or risk violating their visa status.”  One international student labels it: “mass deportation plain and simple”.

According to the official ICE statement,

Nonimmigrant F-1 and M-1 students attending schools operating entirely online may not take a full online course load and remain in the United States. The U.S. Department of State will not issue visas to students enrolled in schools and/or programs that are fully online for the fall semester nor will U.S. Customs and Border Protection permit these students to enter the United States. Active students currently in the United States enrolled in such programs must depart the country or take other measures, such as transferring to a school with in-person instruction to remain in lawful status. If not, they may face immigration consequences including, but not limited to, the initiation of removal proceedings. [emphasis in original]

Hybrid learning might be acceptable:

Nonimmigrant F-1 students attending schools adopting a hybrid model—that is, a mixture of online and in person classes—will be allowed to take more than one class or three credit hours online. These schools must certify to SEVP, through the Form I-20, “Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status,” certifying that the program is not entirely online, that the student is not taking an entirely online course load this semester, and that the student is taking the minimum number of online classes required to make normal progress in their degree program.

This was an issue in spring, during that rapid migration online, but ICE then quickly offered temporary policies allowing international students to stay.  This week’s decision undoes those policies.

So why does it matter?

The ICE decision will make would-be international students’ lives more difficult.  Some have made plans to live in America during 2020-2021.  If they return to their home nations, matching up schedules for live video sessions can be a bear.  As Allen Orr of the American Immigration Lawyers Association notes in Inside Higher Ed’s article,

“You are discontinuing whatever you may have already been in. You might have already had a lease,” he said. “Even if these colleges have school online, some places may be in different hours and different time zones.”

Irina Manta argues that should a Toggle Term scenario occur (campuses switching from mostly in-person to entirely online, a la March 2020) international students will have new worries.  “This could throw international students into a chaotic situation where their status remains unclear or where they have to scramble to attempt returning to their countries when travel may or may not be possible.”

At the strategic level, recall that international student became significant enrollment sources for American colleges and universities.  Should that number drop as a result of ICE’s decision, the financial blow may be severe for some institutions, especially those already bearing up under myriad other pressures.

It may also enter the balance as administrations consider options for fall classes.  It’s incentive to reopen for in person instruction.  As one observer put it,

“If you are worried about COVID and not reopening too soon, you should be VERY worried about this,” [Immigration lawyer Greg] Siskind tweeted. “Schools WILL be opening this fall that otherwise would have kept classes online because of ICE’s decision.”

Economically, enough international students staying home could hurt economies adjacent to colleges and universities.  This would represent fewer students renting apartments, buying food, getting computers repaired, etc.

Politically, this strikes me as a Trump administration move aimed at stoking anti-academic and anti-international fervor among voters and donors.  It may gratify some in that campaign to see colleges and universities suffer a bit.  It may also be aimed at irritating China, the leading source of international students on American campuses, and the subject of what looks like an emergent cold war.  Further, it could fit in with the Trump argument that America is doing fine under the pandemic, and more enterprises should open up for business as usual.

From a futures perspective… back in 2019 I presented two scenarios for international education to a Berlin event.  They are actually pretty simple.  One, Planetary University, sees accelerated transnational education, with students, faculty, and staff crossing national borders.  In contrast, National College is concerned with local and, well, national concerns.  Its population is local and its curriculum reflects that.

This week’s ICE move is another datapoint for National College, at least in the United States.

There is opposition, of course.  The Inside Higher Ed article I linked to up above contains statements by critics.  #StudentBan is trending on Twitter.  An open letter against it has 1100 signatures, last I checked.  A petition on the White House website has nearly 70,000 signatures.  Jesse Stommel asks academics to act within institutions:

Perhaps that opposition will amount to a datapoint in favor of Planetary University.

EDITED TO ADD: MIT and Harvard filed suit against the ICE ruling, as did the state of California.

In the meantime, I’m worried about all international students hoping to study with American colleges and universities.  Including some of my students.

(thanks to ODLearn for the nudge)

 

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9 Responses to ICE rules against international students taking online semesters, gestures towards one academic future

  1. margit watts says:

    The whole deal boggles the mind. I always wonder if we can go any lower or deeper into insanity, and then we do…..watched Hamilton this weekend and loved every minute and was reminded that we did, in fact, create a constitution et al……where is it all now?

  2. Glen McGhee, Dir., FHEAP says:

    “Politically, this strikes me as a Trump administration move aimed at stoking anti-academic and anti-international fervor among voters and donors. It may gratify some in that campaign to see colleges and universities suffer a bit.”

    I was wondering about these two items as well, especially the last one. Pay-back, maybe. If this is the case, and Fall turns out to be a disaster, and the administration stands by without lifting a finger (ACE is getting nowhere, apparently), then we need to pull out Plan B.
    Oh, what? There is no Plan B? Why no Plan B? What scenario would that be?

    This next one I had not thought about:
    “It may also be aimed at irritating China, the leading source of international students on American campuses, and the subject of what looks like an emergent cold war.”
    They all seem possible.

  3. Joe Essid says:

    It’s squarely anti-academic. The Bloated Tick wants to prop up his standing among the bumpkins in his voting base.

    Our best bet is that November brings a crushing landslide against this evil man. Yet that is what I thought in 2016.

  4. Bill Owens says:

    Quite a few campuses in New York State have announced plans to end in-person instruction at Thanksgiving and complete the semester online. That would appear to run afoul of the new policy, though perhaps the timing will work out for at least some students. Would they then be allowed to remain in the US until Spring? I hope there will be some clarification, to avoid (yet another) outbreak by forcing students to return to campus after the holiday.

    Ironically, the international students would be the least likely to leave during Thanksgiving and would probably be allowed to remain in their housing during the last part of the semester, though they’d be effectively remote learners like everyone else.

  5. Pingback: Imitating the Economy | Inside Higher Ed - News Portal

  6. Ken Van Horn says:

    I don’t think this is political. The legal counsel for ICE must always protect the organization from lawsuits and this sounds like something that would come out of the language from immigration law applied to a circumstance not foreseen by Congress when the law was passed.

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