The University Insider is The Daily’s first faculty and staff-oriented newsletter. This weekly newsletter will give U-M faculty and staff the ability to see the most important issues on campus and in Ann Arbor — particularly those related to administrative decisions — from the perspective of an independent news organization. It will also provide a better understanding of student perspectives.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement unveiled plans on July 6 to change regulations involving international students studying in the United States upcoming fall semester. Under the new rules, international students attending colleges operating fully online will not be allowed to remain in the United States. This announcement came as a shock to many students, as an earlier announcement in March from ICE reassured them that “nonimmigrant students are able to continue to make normal progress in a full course of study” and told them to remain flexible and “adjust guidance as needed” with the rapidly evolving COVID-19 pandemic.
Kinesiology sophomore Zach Corsun created a petition asking the University of Michigan to create a one-credit in-person class option for international students to be able to stay in the U.S. The petition currently has 13,000 signatures and counting.
Corsun said he was inspired to start the petition as some of the good friends he made during his freshman year were international students.
“It would be completely unfair to them and all of the other amazing international students if they were to be stripped of the chance to be on campus in the U.S. due to something totally out of their control,” Corsun said. “International students would have to return to their country where they would face many unnecessary obstacles such as time zone differences, internet content restrictions, unreliable wifi and potential political instability.”
An international student and Engineering junior, who spoke to The Daily, wishes to remain anonymous due to concerns for his visa and will be referred to as “John” for clarity. John expressed that despite the slight personal relief he felt reading the clause in the new guidelines that allowed students pursuing hybrid instruction for the fall semester to stay in the United States, he believed the rules were unnecessary.
“I don’t see it benefitting anyone, it just causes a lot of anxiety and panic to a lot of international students,” John said. “I cannot think of any gain for anyone.”
However, even if a school is operating in a hybrid format, international students who only take online classes still face potential deportation.
On Wednesday, Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology filed a lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security and ICE to bar the new guidelines from taking effect. On Thursday, the University of Michigan announced it will join Harvard and MIT in their lawsuit as a friend of the court with an amicus brief that could be filed as soon as Friday.
John said he believes the University is very supportive of international students and hopes that in the case classes are reverted to being fully online due to an increase in severity of the COVID-19 pandemic, the University will fight for international students to be able to stay.
“I would hope that at least the University of Michigan would find loopholes for international students to stay in the U.S. because going back home isn’t the safer or smarter option in the midst of this pandemic,” John said.
John recognizes that a fully in-person semester is not possible, but would prefer to be able to do lab components of courses and have some sort of in-person interaction to enrich his learning as an Engineering student.
“The University is trying to make online instruction as good as possible but at the same time there’s also human interaction that I’ve been missing out on,” John said.
Regardless, John feels positive about the future.
“I’m pretty hopeful that things will work out and that most international students will be able to stay,” John said. “So that’s how I’m feeling right now.”
Engineering junior Tony Pan, an international student from China, said he felt supported by the University’s immediate statements against the ICE policy and the University International Center’s response and information to reassure international students.
Pan said the University’s response was acceptable to some international students this time because the original plan of a hybrid semester was in place while taking all students into account, rather than a strategy to keep international students enrolled following the new ICE guidelines.
“I want to emphasize that the benefits that international students bring to the U.S. are so much more than purely economic,” Pan said. “I believe a U.S. education is so valuable precisely because of the diversity from students of all backgrounds, whether it be ethnic or place of birth.”
Pan noted the introduction of an International Student Fee last year, which was intended to provide the infrastructure to support international students. He said he expects the University to live up to its promise and improve services for international students.
“I hope lawyers from Student Legal Services can represent international students facing deportation proceedings,” Pan said. “(The University) needs to take a hard stance against on-campus deportation of its legal students.”
LSA sophomore Matthew Wu, an international student from South Africa, expressed his initial gratitude for the support international students from both the University and other American universities have been receiving.
“(It) has been so surreal and much appreciated all together,” Wu said. “Thank you to everyone who has been standing up from us and seeing things from our perspective.”
Wu said ICE’s announcement has added a lot of pressure to him personally as he could not go home for the summer due to border closures and is currently living with family in Taiwan. However, if he lives there for an extended period of time, he will be forced to enroll in the army.
“This whole (situation) has been quite difficult in the fact that if I am unable to return to the U.S., not only am I unable to return home to South Africa, but I also will not be able to live in Taiwan due to conscription,” Wu said.
An international student and LSA junior who wishes to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation from the University will be referred to as “Jane” for clarity. Jane said this has been a very stressful time for her, with one of the big overarching issues being travel.
“If I need to stay in another country for 14 days and then go to the United States that could possibly cost me more than $10,000,” Jane said. “I feel that it is dangerous for me to go to another country which I don’t know and if something happens in those 14 days I could be trapped there.”
Despite Jane and her family’s worries about travel in the midst of the pandemic, Jane feels as if she must return to the U.S. in order to keep her I-20 and F-1 statuses. According to Jane, the policies do not clearly outline if a student opting for a fully online semester will have that status revoked, which in result affects her F-1 visa and Curricular Practical Training visa.
Getting a new F-1 visa is a lengthy process, especially now, as many incoming freshmen international students and transfer international students have had this process stalled or slowed.
“The earliest date I can go to the embassy to get a new F-1 visa is early January, so I don’t know if I would be able to go back to the United States for the winter semester,” Jane said.
Jane noted many international students are considering gap years or deferring their offers, but this is not an option Jane wants to pursue as she was planning on doing an internship in the U.S. next summer.
“If I don’t go back to the United States for fall semester, I am worried that I will lose my CPT, which is the visa that allows me to do an internship in the United States,” Jane said. “It could be expired in a way that would not allow me to use it.”
Conditions of the CPT require students to maintain full-time enrollment during fall and winter semesters, but they have not been updated or clarified to account for remote instruction.
Jane is working with an international student organization on campus to petition the University to pursue a slightly altered “Go Local Program” such as the one offered by New York University in order to complete a semester of University of Michigan coursework fully online, be able to use amenities at a university in their home country with which the University has a partnership with and maintain their F-1 visa status.
Regardless, the combination of the constantly evolving policies from the University, the U.S. and the student’s home country has been overwhelming and stressful to navigate.
“For us, it is like we are standing in the middle and being squeezed on all sides by all of these policies,” Jane said. “Everyday I wake up and say ‘Let me see what is happening today.’”
Engineering sophomore Swam Htike, an international student from Myanmar, said the new regulations are reckless and inconsiderate on top of the country’s ineffective response to the pandemic.
“I don’t feel welcome in the U.S. anymore, and many of my international friends and colleagues feel the same,” Htike said. “I’m trying to be optimistic but it’s really hard to hold on to my American Dream under these circumstances.”
Sarah Zhao contributed to this article and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Daily Staff reporter Celene Philip can be reached at email@example.com