The 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”.
The #StudentBan is expected to effect up to 1 million International students in the United States. 1 million people who contribute to the economy.. and for those who haven’t figured it out yet, this is a mass deportation plain and simple
— George Scott (@George_Scott_96) July 7, 2020
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:
Watch what your university’s president and provost does and says (or doesn’t do or say) in the next few days. And be prepared to quickly rally a vote of no confidence if they are unwilling to defend their own students. #StudentBan https://t.co/TkQIXqgjhe
— Jesse Stommel (@Jessifer) July 7, 2020
Perhaps that opposition will amount to a datapoint in favor of Planetary University.
In the meantime, I’m worried about all international students hoping to study with American colleges and universities. Including some of my students.