Protect our international students!

We, faculty at institutions across the USG, condemn the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) decision, announced Monday July 6th, that stipulates that International Students with F-1 and M-1 visas, “attending schools operating entirely online may not take a full online course load and remain in the United States.” We are asking that the USG commits to protecting our international students from ICE proceedings and deportations if the USG were to shift to online-only instruction because of COVID-19 risks.

The USG institutions have opted for mainly face-to-face instruction. They have emphasized that students will not be forced to assume unnecessary health risks and will have a choice about the kinds of courses they will take in the Fall. However, this ICE decision means that international students will be denied that choice. They will not be allowed to choose to keep their family safe from the pandemic by taking an online course load. It is also unclear what will happen to international students if the USG is forced to shut down campuses and shift to online-only instruction due to COVID-19 risks, similar to what happened over the Spring 2020 semester.

This policy is discriminatory against international students. A shift to online instruction would uproot their lives during their studies, and force a return to their countries of origin with uncertain prospects. For countries with which the United States has an imposed travel ban, and in a moment of limited global mobility with increasing border restrictions, it is unclear if these students will be able, in the future, to return to the United States. In all of these ways, this policy comes at great financial and emotional expense to our students, and puts their futures in unnecessary limbo.

This policy is also economically reckless for our state and country. There are more than one million international students currently studying within the United States, with 13,000 within the USG system alone. The Commerce Department calculates international student contributions to the United States economy at $45 billion in 2018. A 2019 report shows that 62% of international students receive the majority of their funds from sources outside of the United States. Not only do international students come with their own resources, but they also effectively subsidize higher education, making substantial contributions to the coffers of public universities and thereby supporting domestic students. Finally, international students make up the majority of graduate STEM enrollment, a crucial field in which the United States aims to become a “global leader.”

We call on ICE to rescind its decision, and on our university leaders to join us in prioritizing this issue, advocating for our students, and coming up with a quick response that minimizes the impact on international students so they do not have to make the impossible choice to return to their home countries in the context of a global pandemic.