Here’s Why US Universities Need to Open in the Fall

ICE is threatening to deport 1 million+ international students if online classes ensue

Photo by engin akyurt on Unsplash

In an announcement made up of less than 500 words (498 to be exact) the futures of over a million US-based international students have been jeopardized. In a statement released by the US Customs and Immigration Enforcement (ICE) stating the following:

“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.”

This means over a million students are in danger of being deported if their university holds classes online this fall. As many universities are unveiling plans for fall 2020, it is more important than ever to demand justice for international students.

There are petitions for universities to create single credit in-person classes for international students which would allow them to remain in the US with their visa status. If your university has one, sign it!

To read the full statement released by ICE, click here.

It’s Already Difficult to be an International Student

Many international students have traveled from around the world to study at universities. Imagine leaving the only home you’ve ever known to study in a place where you know no one, possibly don’t speak the language, and are likely paying more than double the tuition and fees of domestic students.

Not to mention international students have to apply and get accepted to their university. They also have to go through the rigorous process of obtaining a student visa which you need to have legal status in many countries. The experience is undoubtedly different for every international student, but the immigration process is timely and complex for everyone.

Being an international student is not easy and this announcement of possible deportations for students that have no control over their university’s decision to be online is entirely unjust. To make matters worse, many US universities have not yet released a plan for the fall which leaves international students in limbo until a decision is made.

I am an international student at a Canadian university and my experience as an international student has largely been an amazing one. I have met people from around the world and many I have come to care for deeply. International students do not deserve the terrible treatment they have been subject to in recent years from universities.

This mistreatment has taken the shape of significant tuition increases (the average international student pays at least x1.5 more compared to the domestic rate) which disproportionally impacts international students. Additionally, international students at my university including myself were denied health and dental insurance which is provided for free to domestic students.

The Details of ICE’s Plan (3 scenarios)

Full Online

In this situation, international students would not be able to remain in the US. This is because the US State Department will not issue or validate the visas of students that will not physically be at their university.

These students will not be able to enter the United States. It is unclear in the statement exactly how this will be enforced and when such measures will take effect. The options ICE mention include leaving the US as soon as possible or transferring to a US institution with a hybrid or in-person plan.

The issue with ICE’s suggestion that students could simply transfer is outright ludicrous. Transferring from one university to another is already a stressful process. Not to mention that it’s already July, university admissions offices are likely already busy, and the transfer deadlines for many universities have already passed.

Hybrid Plan

A hybrid plan, as defined by ICE, is one in which universities are providing a mixture of online and in-person classes. In the event of a hybrid plan, international students are not allowed to take all their classes online. ICE states:

“These schools must certify to SEVP [Student and Exchange Visitor Program], 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.”

Additional steps must be taken by the student to certify that they are participating in the minimum number of online courses to advance progress toward their education. Yet, another hoop for international students to jump through. What a (not at all) big surprise, I know.

Normal In-Person Classes

In the event of normal in-person classes taking effect, international students would be bound by the existing guidelines and are able to take a maximum of one online course without risking a penalty. This scenario is one in which universities plan to return to a normal semester with an emphasis on in-person classes as opposed to the flexibility offered by a hybrid plan.

International Students Deserve Better

The penalty for remaining in the US as a student without a proper visa could result in “immigration consequences including, but not limited to, the initiation of removal proceedings.” Over a million international are at risk of being deported due to no fault of their own.

These are hardworking students that have every right to study at their university whether it is online or not come fall 2020. Universities need to act now to stand up for their often neglected international students.

Some petitions are circulating the internet advocating for universities to create a one-credit (or the equivalent) in-person course which would constitute a hybrid plan. Action like this could allow international students to remain in the US to finish their degree without the additional stress of more immigration processes.

These preposterous ICE policies could have a devastating impact on universities that were already scrambling to make a plan amid safety concerns from the COVID-19 pandemic. With the risk of losing international students, new plans must be devised to protect international students.

Action to protect international students should be a priority for American universities because it’s the right thing to do. The unfortunate reality is that many institutions will only take action to keep international students stateside to ensure the international tuition checks keep rolling in.

Repeat after me, international students fund universities. Now say it a few more times to really let that sink in. At the university I attend, international students pay approximately 200% the rate of domestic students in the Faculty of Arts. This is an alarmingly uncommon trend as North American universities profit on the backs of international students.

We need change now because international students deserve better.

* F-1 visa holders = nonimmigrant students pursue academic coursework

* M-1 visa holders = nonimmigrant students pursue vocational coursework while studying in the United States

She/They, LGBTQ+ advocate, bookworm, one of the top LGBTQ writers on Medium.

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