New regulations released last week from U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement stated that foreign students attending universities and colleges that will be operating online this fall cannot remain in the country.
Not only does this put students and higher education in a terrible predicament, its economic impact could be another devastating blow to a country already struggling with pandemic fallout.
The news was met with swift pushback from universities, students and professors. A group of 450 university leaders and immigration advocates, including Harvard and MIT, are suing the Trump administration over the decision. On Monday, 17 states and the District of Columbia filed a separate lawsuit. Professors across the country, including some from Brigham Young University, quickly shared one credit and in-person options they offered and promised to accommodate any students in need.
Schools shouldn’t need to choose between keeping their international students and safeguarding their campus from the spread of the virus.
With roughly one million foreign university and college students in the United States, sending them home creates even more hurdles for higher education, a system that has arguably been one of the most affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Many institutions are struggling to determine just what fall semester will look like, with some opting for a hybrid between online and in-person instruction, and others determining online only is the safest route.
Safety should remain a top priority. Without a dramatic reduction in new cases of the coronavirus, requiring students and instructors to gather in large lecture halls could be dangerous. Putting health first may be a difficult choice, but it’s better than unnecessary health risks.
And for some international students, simply logging on to class from their home country isn’t as simple as it seems.
Time zone differences would make it so some students are attending live lectures between 9 p.m. and 4 a.m., while many other students come from areas without reliable — if any — access to the internet and necessary tools to complete coursework.
The choice to send these students back also seems contradictory to the words of President Trump, written nearly five years ago, where he seemed to recognize the value of retaining long-term foreign students in the U.S.
Annually, international students contribute more than $39 billion to the economy and support more than 455,000 jobs. This is no time to take such economic support away.
We understand the urge to put students back in the classroom. Not only would that facilitate better teacher-student relations, it would lend some semblance of normality to a moment that’s been upended in nearly every way. But health decisions must come first until the world either learns more about the virus or is graced by a vaccine.
That shouldn’t warrant punishment.
The ICE rule as it stands is a blow to individuals who contribute to the economy, work hard and bring much needed talent, job creation, diversity and perspective to American education.
These students should be allowed to stay.