As schools, both private and public, begin to announce plans for operating in the fall, cases of COVID-19 continue to rise across the country. With many institutes of high education planning to re-open within the next two months, the federal government radically disrupted many colleges’ already insecure plans with new ICE guidelines concerning their international students. With over 1,000,000 international students enrolled in US colleges and universities in 2019, these restrictions are not something to simply brush off.
The official guidelines released this Monday restrict international students from staying in the United States unless they take at least one class in person. With many of California’s schools already announcing that they will be conducting education completley online for the entirety of next year, the results of such a restriction could be damning. Similarly, many other universities have carefully devised for a hybrid model of education in which only a select number of classes will be online. Even more intimidating is the fact that if schools set to currently re-open in some capacity are forced to close and move entirely online, then these international students are also at risk of being forced to make incredibly difficult decisions within a small window of time. As the guidelines set forth by ICE state, “Schools should update their information in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) within 10 days of the change if they begin the fall semester with in-person classes but are later required to switch to only online classes, or a nonimmigrant student changes their course selections, and as a result, ends up taking an entirely online course load.” With international students scrambling to figure out their educational plans, transferring for the term or year to another institution does not even guarantee protection.
Not only does this jeopardize the lives of million students who are assets to our educational system, and workforce afterwards, but it further jeopardizes the financial security of colleges, many of which are already struggling to not go belly up. For an administration so focused on salvaging the economy at the cost of public health, it is surprising that they would have made these announcements in light of the fact that in the 2018-2019 academic year international students contributed nearly $41 billion to the national economy. It is no surprise, however, that not only have colleges and companies taken public stances of outrage, but that MIT and Harvard have filed lawsuits against the Trump Administration’s actions. These strict and unfounded guidelines offer nothing to our country other than perpetuating xenophobic policies and continuing the administration’s lack of scientific rooted health regulation. International students must now weigh the cost and benefit of either returning or transferring to a school where they don’t feel safe for the sake of continuing their education. We should not put these arbitrary guidelines above the healthy and safety of our students and populace.