Monday morning, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced plans to modify exceptions for nonimmigrant college students in the fall semester. The press release from ICE states if a university moves classes fully online due to the pandemic, F-1 and M-1 visa students will not be allowed to enter or remain in the United States and they must take other measures to maintain their legal status in the country, such as transferring to another institution that is offering in-person instruction.
Additionally, if a school offers a hybrid model of both in-person and online instruction, the administration must document that students are not taking a fully online course load, according to the release.
These modified exceptions came a few weeks after University of Michigan President Mark Schlissel announced that the University would adopt a hybrid model of both online and in-person classes, but is prepared to switch to a fully online system if needed for the fall semester. ICE’s announcement now puts both universities and international students in a difficult position about how to best proceed with plans for a fall semester amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
LSA sophomore Haoyu Du is from Beijing, China, and acknowledged the recommendation for international students to transfer to institutions offering in-person classes. Du said it would be extremely difficult to transfer.
“Most universities end their application cycle at the latest by May and if you wanted to transfer right now it is impossible to transfer to a U.S. college,” Du said. “Most deadlines have passed and we don’t know if universities will maintain a model that will allow us to maintain our F-1 status so that option was moot.”
Du has been living with a friend in the Ann Arbor area since March, and noted her initial reaction to the ICE announcement.
“Once the policy came out I was very shocked,” Du said. “I will only have 10 days, if the University moves online, before I get deported which is horrifying to think about. It (would involve) paying tens of thousands of dollars for trips (home) or getting into some sort of detention camp and that sent me into a very bad place thinking about that.”
In response to the modifications, Schlissel released a statement condemning them and noting that they restrict students’ learning experiences.
“At the University of Michigan, we add our voice to the many in higher education to express our strong disagreement with the temporary policy announced July 6 by the Department of Homeland Security to further restrict the educational opportunities for international students,” Schlissel wrote.
Schlissel added that the University administration believes that these modifications are harmful to valuable members of the community.
“We continue to oppose arbitrary restrictions on international students who have been and continue to be valuable members of our community of scholars,” Schlissel wrote. “Even with this initial review that shows a less direct impact on our students, we agree with the statement from the Association of American Universities – of which U-M is a member – that calls this policy ‘immensely misguided and deeply cruel to the tens of thousands of international students who come to the United States every year.’”
This is not the first attempt by the Trump administration to curb immigration during the pandemic. In an effort to preserve jobs for American citizens during the record unemployment, President Donald Trump signed an executive order late last month putting a freeze on green card applications and freezes on H-1B visas for highly skilled workers. According to a senior administration official, this executive order would reallocate about 525,000 jobs to Americans through limiting visas for foreign workers.
In response to the restrictions, Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology filed a lawsuit Wednesday in the Massachusetts District Court for a restraining order to prohibit the enforcement of the order on their campuses. ICE’s announcement came just hours after Harvard announced its plans for solely online instruction for the coming academic year.
Harvard President Lawrence Bacow released a statement early Wednesday morning about the lawsuit and their intent to protect students.
“(It) came down without notice—its cruelty surpassed only by its recklessness,” Bacow wrote. “It appears that it was designed purposefully to place pressure on colleges and universities to open their on-campus classrooms for in-person instruction this fall, without regard to concerns for the health and safety of students, instructors, and others… We will pursue this case vigorously so that our international students—and international students at institutions across the country—can continue their studies without the threat of deportation.”
University of California at Los Angeles student Sumana Kaluvai created a document that has since been shared through several University of Michigan-affiliated Facebook pages encouraging students to select online options in their classes where available so international students can take in-person seats. The University of Michigan is one of over 50 schools represented in the document. It is unclear if this action will be beneficial for the University as decisions about classes meeting in person have been predetermined by class size.
Kaluvai wrote on Facebook Tuesday night that the document had surpassed one million viewers. Additionally, a Change.org petition to allow F-1 and M-1 students with visas to remain in the United States regardless of their university’s class status for fall has circulated on social media sites. As of Wednesday evening, the petition had over 230,000 signatures.
LSA senior Jiaheng He told The Daily he is concerned about diversity on campus if international students are not allowed to return.
“Michigan is proud to be very diverse,” He said. “We have all the opportunity to meet students and scholars all around the world and share our views and that’s what makes us strong. (With these restrictions) international students definitely lose this opportunity to share the diversity.”
He highlighted how the new regulations have made international students reconsider their fall plans.
“For incoming students, a lot of people will choose not to come to Michigan,” He said. “They will look for more opportunities to transfer to another country or take a gap year. International students have to pay more than out-of-state students, and I think international students make up about 10-20 percent of the student population but they pay almost half of the tuition, so it’s a big financial challenge for the University too.”
The Graduate Employees Organization also issued a statement emphasizing the problems these modifications will pose to students and the greater campus community.
“The option to teach and study online this fall is necessary to keep graduate workers and all workers, students, and members of the campus community safe in the continuing COVID-19 pandemic,” the statement read. “Moreover, forcing international students out of the country and U-M right now directly jeopardizes their health, safety, and financial and personal stability. International students are valued members of the University community and GEO opposes these xenophobic policies.”
U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., also released a statement condemning the new restrictions and highlighting the importance of online learning to curb the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Among all the uncertainty, it’s disturbing that the federal government would initiate removal proceedings for international students especially given it is a reversal of an earlier decision taken by the agency at the on-set of the pandemic,” Dingell said. “Online courses are safe and sensible ways for universities to protect their students while continuing to provide a quality education while scientists study the best way to ensure students can learn in a safe environment.”
Dingell also encouraged DHS to reconsider these new modifications as the logistical challenges of these sudden changes will make circumstances very difficult for students impacted by the new policy.
“Removing these students due to circumstances beyond their control is senseless and concerning,” Dingell said. “There does not appear to be any public benefit to the US, it will harm the quality of education students receive because of the many logistical challenges, while not in the classroom many remain on campus and in the community contributing to educational and cultural experiences in many other ways, and many have already signed leases and paid tuition as well.”
Summer News Editor Sarah Payne can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.