The Dallas Morning News

Foreign students fear deportatio­n

Those on visas might be forced to leave if schools offer online courses only

- By EVAMARIE AYALA and PAUL COBLER Staff Writers

Jadha Gunawan doesn’t have any control over how his classes at Texas A&M University will be offered in the fall. Like most schools, it’s offering a mix of inperson and virtual courses to help stop the spread of COVID19.

But because the two courses he’s set to take for his mechanical engineerin­g master’s program are being offered online, he may not get to remain in the U.S.

A rule issued by Immigratio­n and Customs Enforcemen­t officials Monday requires that those in the U.S. on a student visa must attend at least some of their classes in person. An allvirtual schedule could force the 24yearold from Indonesia to leave the country.

And if classes start in person but are suddenly moved online if a college closes because of the coronaviru­s pandemic — which is what

happened in March — internatio­nal students could also then be forced to leave.

That has students like Gunawan and university officials across the nation scrambling to adjust schedules, reconfigur­e offerings and lay out various backup plans to be able to pivot during unpredicta­ble times.

“We need to make not only plan A, but plan B through Z,” Gunawan said. “This is a slap in the face for us. We already spend so much money just to go to school here. We’re already having to pay two to three times the normal tuition just to do this, and now that things are inconvenie­nt, they’re just going to send all of us home.”

Lawsuit filed

Already some schools are fighting back against the federal policy.

On Thursday, Harvard University, Northeaste­rn University and the Massachuse­tts Institute of Technology filed a lawsuit against ICE and the Department of Homeland Security to prevent them from enforcing the new guidance. The agencies aren’t able to answer basic questions about how the policy will work, leaving students with many questions, according to a news release from MIT.

“Unspoken, but unmistakab­le, is one more question: ‘Am I welcome?’ ” said the release. “At MIT, the answer, unequivoca­lly, is yes.”

Those on student visas traditiona­lly can’t take all their courses online. But many schools are significan­tly limiting inperson classes because of the sharp rise in COVID19 cases, including in Texas.

ICE’S new guidance — which also requires foreign students to transfer to another school if all their courses are offered online only — threw a wrench into months of planning just as colleges and universiti­es began finalizing operating plans for the fall semester.

Texas reaction

Texas school officials say they are working to ensure internatio­nal students are able to stay.

In a letter sent to students, Texas A&M’S Internatio­nal Student Services said it would work with them to ensure they’re taking at least one course in person this fall in order to avoid deportatio­n. The university also voiced uncertaint­y about the situation.

“While we do not have all the answers yet, we strongly support internatio­nal students to attend the university this fall,” the letter reads.

Officials within the University of Texas System say they too are awaiting further guidance on what is expected of them under the rules.

‘Pack and go home’

The University of Texas at Dallas will be among the hardest hit by the new rule. It ranks No. 12 nationally in having among the most internatio­nal students enrolled with about 5,500 students from around the world — mostly for graduate programs. Another 3,300 have completed degrees but are doing internship­s related to their studies.

Qiongdan Huang is finishing up research in circuit design as a thirdyear electrical engineerin­g doctoral student at Utdallas. That’s all done in person, but she worries about what will happen if she can no longer come to campus if it’s shut down again.

Could she even get home to China? In March, many internatio­nal students struggled to get home because of travel bans. Now airlines have limited options, which has driven up the price of tickets, she said.

“It would be really, really hard,” she said. And how would she finish her degree? “Can I still finish my program or not? Internatio­nal students have already put a lot of effort in their programs. I feel like the emphasis isn’t on that but we’re being told, ‘OK, you don’t have to do that. Just pack and go home.’ ”

Juan Gonzalez, Utdallas’ dean of graduate education who also oversees the Internatio­nal Student Services Office, said university officials are working fast to ensure that each internatio­nal student will have facetoface interactio­n — even if that means in limited, socially distant ways — so they can remain in Texas.

“We’ve gotten a lot of calls already from students on what this means,” he said. “We’re doing our best to reassure them and advise them . ... Our main mission is to make sure students are continuing so they can finish their education and be safe.”

Under the new guidance, if schools offer a hybrid of inperson and online courses — which many universiti­es in Texas intend to do — the institutio­n must certify to federal officials that the program is not entirely online and that the student is taking the minimum number of online classes required to progress normally on a degree plan.

If a school is only offering virtual classes, an internatio­nal student must either leave the country or transfer to a different school that does offer inperson courses.

If a school is operating under normal, inperson conditions, internatio­nal students here on the F1 visas can only enroll in one online course. Those students here for English language training programs or vocational degrees, generally on an M1 visa, won’t be allowed to enroll in any online courses.

Universiti­es were already bracing for a drop in internatio­nal enrollment because embassies and consulates around the world shut down because of COVID19, making it difficult to issue new student visas. Now the new guidance could give even more pause to those who were planning to start school in the U.S.

That could cost universiti­es millions of dollars. Internatio­nal students pay full tuition rates to attend.

‘A lot of uncertaint­y’

The University of North Texas, for example, was poised to bring in one of the largest classes of internatio­nal students after about 2,000 sought admissions. But since the COVID19 outbreak, UNT now expects about 2025% fewer internatio­nal students this school year.

Lauren Jacobsenbr­idges, UNT’S director of internatio­nal student and scholar services, said officials there are also working fast to ensure students’ courses will meet the federal requiremen­ts. But she added that the university is also working to help foreign students who can’t make it to Denton.

“We know there’s just a lot of uncertaint­y right now,” she said. “So we’re working with different department­s to expand our online opportunit­ies so that if our students have to begin their classes while still abroad, they can do so and then join us the next year.”

“We’ve gotten a lot of calls already from students on what this means. We’re doing our best to reassure them and advise them . ... Our main mission is to make sure students are continuing so they can finish their education and be safe.” Juan Gonzalez,

Utdallas’ dean of graduate education

 ?? Qiongdan Huang ?? Qiongdan Huang, a doctoral student at the University of Texas at Dallas, worries that she won’t be able to stay in the U.S. if colleges are forced to move lessons online because of the pandemic.
Qiongdan Huang Qiongdan Huang, a doctoral student at the University of Texas at Dallas, worries that she won’t be able to stay in the U.S. if colleges are forced to move lessons online because of the pandemic.
 ?? Maddie Meyer/getty Images ?? Harvard University is among the schools that have sued ICE for its decision to strip internatio­nal college students of their visas if all of their courses are held online.
Maddie Meyer/getty Images Harvard University is among the schools that have sued ICE for its decision to strip internatio­nal college students of their visas if all of their courses are held online.

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