U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand joined nearly 100 Senate and House Democrats in a letter to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), urging the agencies to withdraw new guidance issued by ICE that imperils the status of international students who would be studying online at U.S. institutions this coming academic year. The guidance threatens international students with deportation if they do not comply with the requirement that they take in-person classes.
“International students are part of the fabric of our academic communities in New York. Time and again, the Trump administration finds new ways to politicize immigration instead of taking action to combat this unprecedented public health and economic crisis,” said Senator Gillibrand. “DHS and ICE must immediately rescind this policy that needlessly punishes international students, academic institutions, and our economy, all of which benefit from having diverse perspectives at the table and in our classrooms.”
Due to the COVID-19 public health crisis, many colleges and universities have followed the guidance of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and transitioned to online learning. This guidance recognizes the diversity of various institutions of higher education and advises them to “adjust to meet the unique needs and circumstances” they face when trying to keep their communities safe. On July 6, 2020, ICE issued guidance that altered the Student and Exchange Visitor Program’s requirements for international students, imposing a one-size-fits-all standard on all colleges and universities. According to that guidance, international students on F-1 visas (for full-time study at an academic institution) and M-1 visas (for vocational or other nonacademic training) will not be allowed to take a full online course load while in the United States. This affects incoming students, who will not be permitted to receive their visas or enter the country, as well as international students already in the United States. Under the new guidance, current international students in the United States will have to transfer to another school with in-person classes or leave the country—or else face deportation. The lawmakers’ letter urges ICE and DHS to immediately rescind the new guidance and to provide a staff briefing to discuss the Administration’s rationale for the guidance.
Senator Gillibrand previously wrote to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in April 2020 to urge the State Department to provide greater flexibility to institutions and international students with existing visas to participate in virtual learning so that they are able to safely continue their studies during the pandemic. Gillibrand’s letter also urged the State Department to waive interview requirements for students renewing a visa and to allow for phone or video interviews for first time visa applicants where appropriate during the pandemic.
New York ranks second in the nation for the total number of international students, with an estimated $5.3 billion in expenditures in state according to the Open Doors report by the Institute of International Education.
Read the letter here.