When You Act and Don’t Learn: ICE’s Dangerous Restrictions for International Students

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Image courtesy of PBS.org

Yesterday, on July 6th 2020, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced that any students on student visas within the United States who aren’t taking in-person classes come fall 2020 would have to leave the country.

More specifically, the new guidelines state: “The U.S. Department of State will not issue visas to students enrolled in schools and/or programs that are fully online for the fall semester nor will U.S. Customs and Border Protection permit these students to enter the United States…. Active students currently in the United States enrolled in such programs must depart the country or take other measures, such as transferring to a school with in-person instruction to remain in lawful status. If not, they may face immigration consequences including, but not limited to, the initiation of removal proceedings.”

Let’s breakdown the ramifications the above will have on the reopening of colleges and universities. Right now, schools are grappling with the idea of reopening physical locations in the fall, especially as coronavirus spikes across the United States.

A bulk of schools have publicly rolled out plans for combinations of remote and in person learning come fall, with Rice University, Boston University, and University of Michigan among them. But it’s possible that the recent spikes will cause them to roll them back in.

So, even if colleges and universities do remain physically open, out of nearly 1 million international students in the United States, for the 388,839 F-1 visa and the 9,518 M-1 visa students the choice is clear: risk death or deportation. Now, considering our administrations consistently xenophobic views, this is an admittedly effective way to drain our country of foreign students.

But by threatening international students, who often pay the full price for their education, especially as undergraduates, in comparison to their domestic counterparts, this new mandate might force schools to remain open to retain solely to retrain their business.

After all, during the pandemic has already cost colleges hundreds of millions of dollars in lost room, board, and tuition fees. In fact, in an article by Forbes, the aforementioned University of Michigan estimates a net loss of up to $1 billion due to corona.

So, there’s no money to burn. And this forced reopening for economic gain would put not only the international students, but professors and campus staff at huge risk, since both latter would have to remain on campus to accommodate the former.

About 65% of all international students pay their own tuition. In contrast, about 85% of domestic students receive some form of aid. And international students contribute around 9 billion USD to public universities alone, who are losing the most money due to the pandemic and who do not have the large endowments of schools like Harvard and Yale to sustain them. All in all, international students are estimated to contribute a staggering 45 billion to the US economy.

Now, if we are to assume that every international student on a student visa brings in about $35,000 a year (averaging the average amount that public college-$25,000-and private-$45,000-colleges cost), the 400,000 or so students at risk bring in $14,000,000,000 through tuition alone, at least. If we assume that only 65% of the 400,000 are paying full price per the above, that’s still $9,100,000,000. So, there is a large amount of money at stake for the schools.

And with coronavirus on the rise, I personally believe schools should consider going remote for all of fall semester for the safety of all involved. But we’ve consistently seen how premature reopening is driven by reigniting the economy. This new mandate would be forcing the hand of the colleges and universities who rely on international students for financial gain and avoid more fiscal loss.

This isn’t even to address the myriad of immaterial benefits that we’ll lose from alienating our international students, like their unique perspectives, their varied skill-sets, and their ability to introduce American students to international work or learning opportunities. After-all, we need international students. In contrast to your average Psychology major who went to a tiny college and who once seriously considered getting an MFA to the objection of her traditionally Jewish parents, international students are 50% more likely to major in sort after S.T.E.M areas. And when welcome, they’ll often stay in the country they got their degree in, helping to further revitalize the economy.

After all, plenty have noted the flaws in this new guideline and how it puts undue pressure on international students. Higher Education Specialist at Aspen Institute Linda Perlstein adeptly tweeted “This is so punitive and disruptive and unsafe and … really just part of a long con to make it illegal to be foreign-born.”

And former immigration lawyer Aaron Reichlin-Melnick noted that Under the rule ICE announced today, schools like Harvard wouldn’t lose tuition from students forced to leave the United States. Students could “attend” classes virtually — in their home country. But if the choice is stay at Harvard or leave the US… many will choose to transfer.”

Reichlin-Melnick goes on to Tweet that spotty internet connections and restrictions on attending classes due to time differences for students forced home would make transferring an attractive option. This would lose colleges even more money and our economy valuable future workers.

Finally, for the international students who have been stranded in America since the pandemic, there is always the chance that the bulk travel caused by this mandate will cause surges and spread of coronavirus in other countries. In fact, the top home countries where international students hail from-like China, South Korea, and India-have been far more successful at containing corona than the United States. It’s possible that a forced mass deportation will put these countries back at risk.

It will also put the traveling students in danger. The students who choose not to brave it out in in-person classes might a self-selecting group partially made up of those who have pre-existing conditions and can’t afford to take the chance. At the same time, to escape one danger, they’ll be thrown into the unhealthy gamble of air travel during a pandemic. Of course, like with so much else, America is deciding this isn’t our problem.

Finance, healthcare, and technology nerd, aspiring writer, and pop culture junkie. All views my own. Work in progress.

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