Earlier this week, the US government announced a new policy that would prevent international students from staying in the country if their universities offered entirely online courses. This policy was designed to force universities to reopen, even if doing so is unsafe and against public health advice. Harvard and MIT have already sued to prevent the policy taking effect and other universities have condemned the policy.
Sociologist Heba Gowayed organized the below open letter for faculty to express their opposition to this cruel policy. More than 15,000 academics have signed the letter so far. You can sign the letter here and view the list of signatories here. Another petition (for anyone, not just faculty) has garnered almost 200,000 signatures and can be signed here.
Open Letter Against the Student Ban
We, faculty at institutions across the United States, 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.” Further it states that students with F-1 visas may not take a fully online course load even if their university is adopting a hybrid model.
As Universities do the work of figuring out how to keep our communities safe during the COVID-19 pandemic, while ensuring the integrity of our pedagogy, our administrators have made difficult decisions. To protect our university staff, students and workers, some universities have chosen to go entirely online. And universities that have chosen a hybrid model may also be forced to go online, if the pandemic’s impact worsens. This ICE decision means that not only will our international students not be allowed to stay in the country, but that even if they do, they will not be allowed to make decisions to keep their family safe from the pandemic by taking an online course load. If universities change course based on this ICE decision, it would mean putting their other students and faculty at risk, forcing all back into classrooms during a pandemic.
This policy is discriminatory. It fails to take into account the profound social and financial investments that international students have made in their often difficult decisions to embark on their educational journeys in the United States. Like all students, international students have created relationships, rented apartments, and invested in communities as they work towards building their futures. For our graduate students, who may have moved here along with their families, and who receive university stipends, this poses additional obstacles around their education and stipends. This policy 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.
What’s more, this policy is economically dangerous for our country, particularly in the context of the current financial crisis. The almost one million international students in the United States are drivers of our national economy. The Commerce Department puts international student contributions to the United States economy at $45 billion in 2018. A 2019 report shows that 62% of all international students receive the majority of their funds from sources outside of the United States. And, not only do international students come with their own resources, but they also effectively subsidize higher education, making substantial contributions to the costs of public universities and their 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.”
International students are students. They are also contributors to the growth of higher education in the US. We as educators reject the artificial distinction between foreign and domestic students, which undermines the pursuit of both knowledge and justice. 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.