New ICE Regulations
On July 6th, US Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) released modified guidelines regarding international college students taking courses online in the fall semester. Previously, foreign students were only allowed to take a limited number of online classes, but in the previous spring and fall semester they were given the flexibility to continue their studies according to their college’s protocols. With the new restrictions, international students would not be permitted to stay in the United States if their college is completely online. The agency gave these students the choice of either transferring to colleges with in-person classes or taking a medical leave. This announcement came after some colleges had already announced plans for fully online classes, leaving foreign students uncertain over the future of their education. After widespread backlash from universities and their students, the Trump administration rescinded the restrictions. However the fact that these harsh policies were enacted is a worrying sign for the status of international students in such uncertain times. The ICE guidelines preventing US international students from solely taking online classes was severely detrimental as these students contribute greatly to the economy, and in-person classes would’ve led to an increase in coronavirus cases. Thus, colleges must strive to do everything in their power to combat irrational restrictions targeting their international students.
Importance of International Students
International students are one of the United State’s greatest assets. The country houses 14 out of 20 of the world’s top universities and is thus a popular place for students around the world to receive a quality education. These students contributed $45 billion to the economy and supported 458,290 jobs in the 2018-2019 school year. These jobs are mostly in higher education, but also include retail and healthcare. Additionally, they help maintain the US’s global status; according to a 2020 report, 62 world leaders studied in the United States for their post-secondary education, greater than any other country. However, the number of students seeking higher education in the US has been steadily dropping since 2016, while countries such as Canada saw a 20% increase in enrollment in 2017. Among the most popular reasons for this downturn includes complications in the visa process and the hostile political/social environment. Without the contributions of foreign students, America’s economy and academic standing would be severely impacted.
The Fight to Over Reopening Schools
The Trump administration, which was responsible for the new guideline, has heavily advocated for higher institutions to completely reopen in the fall. Thus, these restrictions were intended to pressure colleges into holding in-person classes in the fall. Officials claimed that the prolonged break from normal school is detrimental to the students’ education. Furthermore, with children in school, parents would be able to return to the workplace, thereby boosting the economy. Trump even stated at a White House event that he was planning to “put pressure on the governors and the schools to reopen.” However, in areas where Covid-19 cases haven’t seen a significant decrease, inviting thousands of students back on campus would undoubtedly lead to a resurgence of cases. Even with a young population, the coronavirus is still a serious threat, especially to those with pre-existing conditions. Many critics also note that Trump’s reelection campaign is heavily based around the economy, which puts into question if his motives for reopening the country is purely based on concern for everyday citizens. All in all, a disruption in learning is not a valid excuse for placing the lives of students in unnecessary danger.
Role of Colleges
Although the guidelines were rescinded due to criticism from both political parties, the White House’s hostile rhetoric towards immigration means that alternative measures targeting international students are a worrying possibility. As such, colleges have the responsibility to continue to protect their students, regardless of their nationality. Harvard and MIT’s lawsuit against the ICE regulations are a prime example of schools taking severe measures to defend international students. The legal challenge was backed by more than 200 schools, including Duke and Stanford. The lawsuit claimed that “ICE’s decision is designed to force universities to conduct in-person classes notwithstanding universities’ and public health officials’ considered judgments that it is neither safe nor educationally advisable to do so.” Additionally, many of the country’s top colleges promised to accommodate foreign students by having both online and in-person classes to comply with the guidelines. International students are a vital part of a diverse college campus, and schools must reassure its students that they will continue to be supported.
As a nation of immigrants, the United States should open its doors to students from all countries seeking to further their education. Many foreign students who study in top US universities go on to become prominent industry and political leaders. Without them, this country would not be the leader of innovation that it is today. However, the restrictions enacted by ICE sent a clear signal to the world that the US could turn their back on these students at any time. In order to promote the enrollment of international students, America must foster a welcoming environment for these scholars.