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ICE’s foreign student ban is bad for America’s economy, health and exceptionalism

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On Monday, the Student and Exchange Visitor Program announced that students on F-1 and M-1 visas will not be allowed to remain in the U.S. if their course load consists only of online classes. The announcement comes at a time when more and more universities are announcing that all fall instruction will be offered online, putting these universities and their students in a tricky spot. If left intact, this student ban will hamper U.S. scientific progress, further damage the U.S. economy and needlessly harm both international students and American citizens alike. 

A student ban will hurt U.S. excellence in science. America justifiably enjoys international prestige for its role in scientific advancement and innovation. This progress depends on a steady stream of international students coming to the U.S., who now make up the majority of graduate students in STEM fields. Banning international students will jeopardize the ongoing scientific research conducted by these students and will harm the U.S.’s reputation as an international leader in science and technology.

A student ban will hurt the U.S. economy. According to the Wall Street Journal, in the 2014-2015 academic year, international students contributed $30 billion to the U.S. economy. Jeopardizing this source of revenue during the best of times would be unwise; to do so in the middle of an economic crisis is beyond foolish. The negative economic effects will not be limited to universities and connected industries: because international students typically pay full tuition, kicking them out means fewer subsidies for domestic students, who will have to pay more to make up the difference.

A student ban will increase the spread of SARS-CoV-2 in the U.S. The ban will pressure universities to hold at least some face-to-face classes for the sake of retaining international students, even when COVID-19 cases in the U.S. are at an all-time high. International students, for their part, will be pressured to enroll in face-to-face classes, even if they have health conditions that increase their risk of serious of severe illness. Just when we should be encouraging physical distancing, a student ban will encourage the opposite.

Finally, a student ban is needlessly cruel. International students are not just bodies in classrooms or numbers on enrollment sheets. International students, like all students, are living their lives and planning for their futures. Very often, graduate students come with their spouses and children. They are members of local communities. They rent apartments, go out for entertainment, and attend community events, including religious gatherings. A student ban will throw these lives into chaos, for no apparent reason. Judging by the responses on social media, the announcement already has. 

In sum, the student ban announced by the Student and Exchange Visitor Program is a bad policy that will negatively affect the lives of both international students and American citizens. The ban does not protect universities, does not protect citizens, does not protect the economy, but does harm all of these, while heaping undue stress and anxiety on students. If our representatives have our interests at heart, they will make overturning the ban one of their highest priorities. 

Dr. Michael Wood is an assistant professor of sociology at Brigham Young University.