Congressional Leaders Urge ICE and DHS to Withdraw New Guidance for International Students Taking Online Courses

Ninety nine (99) members of Congress sent a letter to DHS and ICE urging the agencies to withdraw the new guidance issued by ICE that states that international students may not take a full online course load and remain in the United States.

The letter support that the announcement of modifications to the Student and Exchange Visitor Program’s requirements for international students, would effectively punish international students at colleges, universities, and other institutions that have decided to move their courses online in order to protect their communities from COVID-19.

“The proposed policy throws the lives of hundreds of thousands of students, and the operations of hundreds of colleges and universities, into uncertainty just weeks before the start of the fall term, to the detriment of the United States and its institutions of higher education.

We are concerned that ICE’s guidance is motivated not by public health considerations, but rather by animus toward immigrants, by a goal of forcing schools to reopen even as COVID-19 cases are rising, and by a desire to create an illusion of normalcy during this unprecedented public health emergency. ICE’s proposed policy demonstrates a callous disregard for the harm this policy inflicts on international students, and is contrary to public health guidance from authorities within the Administration. We urge you to withdraw this proposed policy immediately, and not to proceed with your stated plans to publish it in the Federal Register as a Temporary Final Rule”.

Due to the Trump Administration’s catastrophic mishandling of the pandemic, COVID19 continues to rage throughout the United States. Institutions of higher education are rightly consulting with local public health officials, and many have decided to move most or all of their courses online to protect their students, faculty, and staff. These plans are consistent with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) guidance for such institutions, which says that “virtual-only learning options, activities, and events” are the “lowest risk” setting.

The CDC also advises that institutions of higher education “offer virtual learning and telework options, if feasible,” “pursue virtual group events, gatherings, or meetings, if possible,” and “encourage telework for as many faculty and staff as possible.” The CDC guidance is clear: more social distancing is safer, and online solutions are safest for colleges and universities.

“International students contribute immensely to the United States. They add value to their learning communities, bringing diverse viewpoints and experiences benefiting all other members of their communities. They also contribute to the economy; by one estimate, international students contributed nearly $41 billion to the American economy and supported 458,290 jobs during the 2018-2019 academic year. As President Trump noted five years ago, “When foreigners attend our great colleges & want to stay in the U.S., they should not be thrown out of our country.” The sudden removal of international students would weaken the country economically precisely when our fragile economy cannot afford another self-inflicted blow, and would undermine higher education as one of our most significant and valuable exports. This decision also will severely impact the budgets of many colleges and universities during some of the most challenging financial times in modern memory and could result in increased college costs and student debt for domestic students”.

Recent statements by Administration officials suggest that DHS and ICE released this guidance as a pretext to force institutions of higher education to reopen against the advice of public health experts and local officials.

The letter conclude with the allegation that” ICE’s arbitrary new policy is irrational and xenophobic, and risks the health of students, faculty, and staff. We urge you to rescind this proposed policy immediately and to collaborate productively with institutions of higher education to enable a smooth start to the academic year for all students. We also request a staff briefing to discuss the Administration’s rationale for this reckless policy by July 16, 2020.”