For­eign stu­dents fret over ef­fect of rul­ing

USA TODAY US Edition - - NEWS - Henry Ren and Xu­rui Tan Medill News Ser­vice

When Univer­sity of South­ern Cal­i­for­nia stu­dent Mage Zhang spent more than $5,000 for a flight home to China in late May, she packed all her be­long­ings and thought this could be a trip of no re­turn.

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s new rule on in­ter­na­tional stu­dents con­firmed her wor­ries.

Is­sued by Im­mi­gra­tion and Cus­toms En­force­ment on Mon­day, the new reg­u­la­tion says in­ter­na­tional stu­dents at­tend­ing col­leges in the U.S. can­not stay in the coun­try if their classes are held fully on­line and not in a class­room.

In a July 1 let­ter to stu­dents, USC an­nounced un­der­grad­u­ates will be “pri­mar­ily or ex­clu­sively” tak­ing classes on­line in the fall term. Zhang said she didn’t ex­pect to re­turn to cam­pus be­fore Novem­ber.

“The risks and ex­penses are too high for a re­turn­ing trip to the U.S., and I’d rather take on­line classes at home,” said Zhang, who will be a se­nior this year.

Thou­sands of in­ter­na­tional stu­dents like Zhang must make dif­fi­cult de­ci­sions un­der ICE’s new rule. If they opt for on­line cour­ses only, they can be forced out or barred from en­ter­ing the U.S. To re­main in the coun­try, they will have to take in-per­son classes de­spite con­cerns about the coro­n­avirus.

“This ad­min­is­tra­tion clearly is not one that’s wel­com­ing to im­mi­grants, and this ex­tended very clearly to in­ter­na­tional stu­dents as well,” said Sarah Pierce, a pol­icy an­a­lyst at the Mi­gra­tion Pol­icy In­sti­tute. “It also places a lot of pres­sure on in­ter­na­tional stu­dents to try to at­tend in-per­son classes, which many might be un­com­fort­able with.”

The pol­icy has pushed some schools and uni­ver­si­ties to re­con­sider fall aca­demic plans, while many vowed to pro­tect their in­ter­na­tional stu­dents. The Univer­sity of Texas at El Paso said Tues­day that it will work with each of its more than 1,400 in­ter­na­tional stu­dents to meet fed­eral re­quire­ments for an F-1 stu­dent visa.

Har­vard Univer­sity and Mas­sachusetts In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy sued the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion Wed­nes­day over the pol­icy, re­quest­ing a tem­po­rary re­strain­ing or­der to pause its im­ple­men­ta­tion. Har­vard will of­fer classes only on­line this fall, while MIT plans to in­vite some stu­dents to cam­pus for a mix of in­per­son and on­line classes, while keep­ing the rest of its stu­dents on­line. Sev­eral uni­ver­si­ties had joined the suit by late Wed­nes­day.

“The or­der came down with­out no­tice — its cru­elty sur­passed only by its reck­less­ness,” Har­vard Pres­i­dent Larry Ba­cow wrote in a let­ter an­nounc­ing the law­suit. “We be­lieve that the ICE or­der is bad pub­lic pol­icy and we be­lieve that it is il­le­gal.”

“I think the Har­vard state­ment was def­i­nitely the right thing to do,” said Shri­ank Kana­parti, an In­dian stu­dent who will be a se­nior at Har­vard. “All my friends across dif­fer­ent uni­ver­si­ties are also in sup­port of this be­cause it col­lec­tively helps in­ter­na­tional stu­dents as a whole.”

Mean­while, some fac­ulty are plan­ning in-per­son classes in the fall to ac­com­mo­date in­ter­na­tional stu­dents. Wil­liam Hurst, an as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor of po­lit­i­cal sci­ence at North­west­ern Univer­sity, said on Twit­ter that he may of­fer an in­de­pen­dent study course to any in­ter­na­tional grad­u­ate stu­dent in his depart­ment. The col­lege plans to hold a sig­nif­i­cant por­tion of classes re­motely but has said it will of­fer in-per­son “cur­ric­u­lar and co-cur­ric­u­lar ex­pe­ri­ences.

“With­out somehow open­ing more in­per­son classes, I don’t see an easy way for the univer­sity to help stu­dents avoid run­ning afoul of this new rule,” Hurst later said in an email. “In the mean­time, this is just a sim­ple stop-gap that I hope might make a small dif­fer­ence.”

Hurst plans to hold in-per­son meet­ings out­doors be­cause his of­fice is too small for so­cial dis­tanc­ing. Most of the grad­u­ate stu­dents he works with are in­ter­na­tional stu­dents, he said, while a few have in­quired about the course.

Yet for some stu­dents in their home coun­tries, ICE’s pol­icy gives them a rea­son to stay put, at least for fall.

Shreyas Sa­boo, a se­nior at the Univer­sity of South Carolina and cur­rently at home in In­dia, planned to fly back to the U.S. in early Au­gust un­til his cousin for­warded him ICE’s an­nounce­ment.

The Univer­sity of South Carolina an­nounced a fall se­mes­ter with some classes in-per­son and some on­line. Still, Sa­boo is wor­ried that if he re­turns to the U.S. for classes, he could be forced to leave if COVID-19 cases spike and cour­ses move on­line again.

“Plus, there’s a chance that I could get in­fected on the way,” Sa­boo said. “There are so many things which are not on our side.”

In­stead, Sa­boo is plan­ning a gap se­mes­ter. He wants to re­turn to the U.S. be­fore his last se­mes­ter and se­cure an in­tern­ship through the Op­tional Prac­ti­cal Train­ing pro­gram, which al­lows in­ter­na­tional stu­dents to work on stu­dent visas.

But the pol­icy might make some stu­dents less likely to re­turn to the U.S. or stay long-term. That could hurt key U.S. in­dus­tries in need of top tal­ent. At the least, it could threaten for­eign stu­dents’ fu­ture ca­reers in the U.S.

Fiona Huang, a Chi­nese stu­dent pur­su­ing a law de­gree at the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, Berke­ley, said she had planned to land a job in the U.S. upon grad­u­a­tion in 2021. If she has to leave due to the ICE pol­icy – Berke­ley’s law school is plan­ning only on­line cour­ses this fall – she may not have the op­por­tu­nity to re­turn. “The en­vi­ron­ment for im­mi­grants is un­friendly,” Huang said. “If we find no ways to re­turn be­fore grad­u­a­tion, years of stud­ies for a job in the U.S. will be wasted.”

Kana­parti said he is ex­plor­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties in other coun­tries. He reached out to the Har­vard Club of In­dia to cu­rate lo­cal job op­por­tu­ni­ties for stu­dents will­ing to come back to In­dia.

“The gen­eral con­sen­sus seems to be that the top global tal­ent pool might move from be­ing con­cen­trated in the U.S. to be­com­ing more global and dis­trib­uted,” Kana­parti said.


Univer­sity of South Carolina stu­dent Shreyas Sa­boo now plans a gap se­mes­ter af­ter ICE is­sued the new rule.

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