In recent days, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced that international students enrolled at an institution that has chosen to offer its classes exclusively online this fall would need to either transfer to another university or would face losing their visa status. The National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) condemns this ruling by ICE as excessively punitive toward international students, harmful to institutions of higher learning and the programs that they deliver, contrary to the public health interests of this country, and counter to NACE’s commitment to diversity and to the spirit of our diverse democracy.
International students are an important component of American colleges and universities and to the fabric of the nation as a whole. Overall, they constitute 5.5 percent of students. In addition, as the Washington Post pointed out in its July 7 editorial, these students contributed $40 billion to the American economy in the FY20 academic year. Moreover, NACE member employers have relied on the skills these students have developed at U.S. colleges and universities to fill vital positions that contribute to our nation in myriad ways. Forcing these students to disrupt their association or living situations with a school that chooses to offer its fall classes online will needlessly hurt their progression toward degree completion. The United States is likely to lose some of these vital contributors to our own economy in the process.
International students also contribute significant tuition revenues to the schools they attend. The ICE determination will force some schools to choose between what the school perceives to be in the best health interests of its community and its financial stability. If the school chooses to forego these revenues, it will need to 1) increase the financial burden on its other tuition paying students or 2) cut costs by reducing staff, placing an unwanted burden on government in dealing with additional unemployed workers at a time when unemployment rates are already at historic highs.
It is important to note that the rules ICE cited in its announcement are not hard-and-fast restrictions. In the spring, when virtually every school went online with its courses, ICE waived the rules in response to the public health emergency. By going forward at this time, ICE is essentially saying that the public health crisis is at an end. Given the coronavirus outbreaks in Florida, Texas, Arizona, California, and other states—and a “second wave” of outbreaks projected for the fall—ICE is ignoring the hard evidence. It is not allowing schools in highly at-risk areas to make the determination as to how best to preserve the health of its students and the citizens in its local community. Its ruling could inadvertently contribute to the spread of the virus and cause undue harm to a population its primary responsibility is to defend.
American universities became the envy of the world because they opened themselves to the best minds from around the world. International students strengthened the knowledge base and inventiveness of academia, which contributed immensely to the creativity of American enterprise. This action by ICE continues a perceived pattern of xenophobia and hostility toward international students evident throughout the history of the present administration and weakens the nation’s higher education institutions as well as our economy and security.
NACE urges ICE to reconsider its ruling regarding the status of international students who, as determined by their colleges and universities in response to the public health crisis, may need to take courses online. We request that schools be given the flexibility to determine what is best for their students and their communities.
July 9, 2020
Update: On July 14, the federal government agreed to rescind ICE’s July 6 directive.