The ICE Foreign Student Policy

On July 6th of 2020, the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) released a new policy targeted towards foreign college students. This policy was formed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, resulting in worldwide shut downs and quarantine. Some of the many businesses that shut down were schools and colleges, and all schools began remote learning during the 2020 spring semester. Thus, students returned home to their families to finish the rest of the semester online, and most international students left the country to go back home. Due to the current situation of COVID-19 in the U.S., the fall 2020 semester is still uncertain and many schools have adapted both remote and hybrid learning styles. In response, ICE under the Trump administration announced temporary exemptions for the fall 2020 semester. This included not allowing “nonimmigrant F-1 and M-1 students attending schools operating entirely online” to return to the U.S., and they “may not take a full online course load and remain in the United States”. While some may agree with ICE and believe that online classes should not qualify students to stay in the U.S., the recent ICE foreign policy should be rescinded to allow international students to remain in the U.S. as it would not only disrupt their education and their lives, but also harm the U.S. economy.

The Huge Negative Impact on Students

This policy has a massive negative impact on international students, and causes unnecessary hardships to them and their families. According to, there are 1,095,299 international students enrolled in United States colleges in 2019, making up 5.5% of the total US student body. Due to COVID-19, most of their universities have been uncertain if they would resume in-person classes for the call, or if they would continue remote learning. This has resulted in uncertainty for around a million students. Should this policy remain in action, many would be negatively affected. For some, the ICE policy announcement could literally result in a life or death situation. Harvard students Ralph Estanboulieh and Abdullah Bannan are international students from Syria, who risk returning home to a war-zone if deported from the United States. Specifically for male students from Syria, losing their full-time student status would mean they would be required by law to enlist in the Syrian military. This not only tampers with their whole plan for the future, but it puts their life at risk. For a less extreme example, being deported would result in having to buy tickets to go back to their home country, which some may not be able to afford. Furthermore, with the COVID-19 pandemic, flying home would pose a tremendous risk to their health and their families health back home. For others who have sacrificed so much to attend an American university, this policy is heartbreaking. For Gabriella de Lorenzo from Brazil, the policy has made her believe she wasn’t welcome in the U.S., and that it is “an extension of racist ideology”. Essentially, the ICE foreign policy has created a large amount of stress for students and has resulted in numerous complications. 

The Economic Impact

If the personal issues countless international students are facing due to this policy does not phase you, let’s consider the impact on the United States economy. In 2018, the “total contribution to the US economy by international students was estimated to be over $45 billion”. It is clear that foreign students contribute a large amount to the US economy, and making them leave would not only result in hardship for the students and their families, but the US economy as a whole. With an already struggling economy due to COVID-19, is the smartest decision really to deport those who contribute $45 billion dollars to the US economy? One of the main businesses affected by this policy are colleges, as their students are being deported and new students wouldn’t be able to enter. Due to the ongoing pandemic, both Harvard and MIT (among other schools) have announced that the Fall 2020 semester would be fully remote. This was announced before the ICE policy was released and came as a shock to many. In response, MIT and Harvard filed a joint law suit against ICE and the US Department of Homeland Security. Fundamentally, they asked “the court to prevent ICE and DHS from enforcing the new guidance and to declare it unlawful”. They added that this policy disrupts international students’ lives and hinders their academic and research pursuits. In response, hundreds of colleges showed support for the Harvard/MIT lawsuit. In addition to the lawsuit, colleges began preparing to take separate measures to help protect foreign students from being deported. With both the economy and individual students having large adverse reactions to the ICE foreign policy, the government should take these testimonies to heart and rescind the policy. 

ICE’s Argument

Now, some people believe that because international students are on a student visa, having only online classes breaches their visa agreement. Due to this, they believe that the United States reserves the right to revoke their ability to stay in the country. This is because, normally, there is a limit of  “only one online or distance learning class [that] can count toward a full course of study for an F-1 student during each term or semester”. Had this been a normal situation, having a full load of online classes would infringe on the F-1 visa requirement – however, this is in no sense a normal time. Due to COVID-19, many international students are past the limit of online classes, therefore breaking the normal visa agreement. While this is true in regular circumstances, an exception should be made for the time being, due to the current pandemic and abnormal situation. This would not only be the right thing to do, but where does the deportation limit end? If international students are going to be deported for having more than one online class, will international workers also be subject to a similar policy as most have been working from home for months? In 2019, there were 28.4 million foreign workers in the U.S. labor force, which is 17.4% of the total. Imagine the negative effect deporting 28.4 million employees would have on the United States. There is no need to hurt the economy more than it already has been by the pandemic, and there is no need to add stress to international persons. There should be an exception to the rules as this is an exceptional time in the world. 

Dear ICE, rescind the policy.

ICE and DHS – think about the negative repercussions of this policy. What benefit is there from deporting hundreds of thousands of students? None. This is a call to action: let international students stay in the United States to help them continue to pursue their aspirations instead of hindering them. These international students are also going through the pandemic like everyone else, and adding the additional stress of losing their school is a heavy burden they shouldn’t have to carry. The solution to this problem is to rescind the policy and give an exception for the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic. It has to be made clear that international students are welcome to continue to pursue their academic goals. Protect international students, and their futures. 

*Note: The foreign policy has now been rescinded and updated. New international students are still not allowed to take online-only course loads in the United States.*