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The Trump Administration will force international students to depart the U.S. before Fall 2020

UPDATE 7/20/20:

The Trump Administration has backed off its plans to rescind accommodations for international students in the United States, following legal challenges from hundreds of higher education institutions and state elected officials. The COVID-19 accommodations implemented on July 6, 2020 will remain in effect. While policy for newly-enrolled international students has not been addressed so far, those students currently studying in the U.S. at schools who move learning fully online for the Fall Semester should be able to stay in the country.

SEVP has updated their FAQ resource to reflect the current policy.

We are keeping the post below for posterity, and as a reminder of the significant costs of restricting legal immigration avenues for international students.

PREVIOUSLY PUBLISHED POST - SEE UPDATE ABOVE

The Trump Administration has just announced that it is abandoning COVID-19 accommodations that had previously been made for international students studying in the U.S., and that it will now instead force international students to leave the United States if their colleges and universities transition to online-only learning for the Fall 2020 semester. This stunning, harmful move will punish foreign-born students and uproot their lives, hurt America’s global competitiveness and further harm the United States’ reputation as a welcoming destination for immigrants.

The change in policy comes with no explanation, and creates even more chaos and confusion for international students living and studying in the United States.”

ICE is rescinding accommodations for students in virtual programs

The new policy is a reversal for Immigration Customs and Enforcement (ICE), the agency that runs the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) for international students. In March 2020, the agency had introduced accommodations in response to the COVID-19 crisis for international students living in the United States, saying that they would be allowed to remain in the country if their schools had transitioned to online learning.

Despite the fact that COVID-19 cases are surging across the United States, ICE has now rescinded those accommodations. According to ICE’s July 6 guidance, the agency will no longer allow students to remain in the United States unless they are able to attend at least some classes in person. They are also barred from re-entering the United States using their F-1 visas for an unspecified period of time. The change in policy comes with no explanation, and creates even more chaos and confusion for international students living and studying in the United States. More than 800,000 international students were enrolled at U.S. colleges and universities for the 2018-2019 school year.

In order to protect the health and safety of their students and staff, some colleges and universities, such as Harvard University and the California State University system, have already announced they will be conducting all courses online for the Fall 2020 semester. Other schools (such as Princeton and Yale Universities) have said most of their courses will move entirely online, while other higher-ed institutions are still deliberating. Many students do not yet know if their schools will be conducting classes in-person or not, making it impossible to plan for their futures.

About 43% of enrolled international students are in graduate programs, and hundreds of thousands... are already contributing their talents by working through Optional Practical Training (OPT).”

Policy Change Creates Massive Disruptions and Harm

While international students could theoretically stay enrolled in their schools from abroad, this would raise a host of difficult – if not impossible – complications, such as a lack of access to electricity, reliable internet, or confronting government restrictions on internet access (nearly 370,000 international students enrolled in U.S. universities are originally from China). Time zone differences could mean students having to take classes in the middle of the night.

And while their visas are temporary, many international students are invested in the U.S. and seek to start and plan their careers here. In fact, about 43% of enrolled international students are in graduate programs, and hundreds of thousands of recent graduates are already contributing their talents by working through Optional Practical Training (OPT). Students are building their lives here, too. They have invested in homes, started businesses, gotten drivers’ licenses. Many have gotten married, and now have U.S. citizen spouses and children whom they would have to leave behind, or who would have to depart the U.S. in order not to be separated from them.

If students choose to stay in the U.S., they will fall out of legal status, become undocumented, and thus subject to deportation...”





For years leaders in higher education have warned that falling enrollment rates among international students could signal that the U.S. is relinquishing its role as the top destination for global talent.”

Losing International Students Would Be Devastating for U.S. Economy, Competitiveness

If forced to leave, international students will likely find it incredibly difficult to return, particularly so long as President Trump’s recent visa bans remain in effect. If the Administration is successful in its other announced changes, such as those restricting or ending OPT work authorization for international graduates, it’s likely they won’t want to come back anyway. On the other hand, if students choose to stay in the U.S., they will fall out of legal status, become undocumented, and thus subject to deportation, and be barred from re-entering the United States for up to a decade.

Economists and other experts have long agreed that international students are a tremendous asset for the United States, and have advocated for policies to better retain their talents. International students contribute enormously to the communities in which they live, they subsidize the cost of education for domestic students, and they drive valuable research and development. After graduating, international students fill critical roles in the workforce, particularly in STEM fields, and help launch new businesses that create jobs for Americans. Studying in the U.S. also exposes them to American culture, building goodwill amongst allies and opening the door to individuals fleeing oppressive regimes.

For years leaders in higher education have warned that falling enrollment rates among international students could signal that the U.S. is relinquishing its role as the top destination for global talent, thanks in part to increasingly restrictive immigration policies and unwelcoming atmospheres on campuses. Despite these warnings, the Trump Administration has doubled down on its hardline efforts to make it more difficult for international students to come to the U.S. or to stay here after graduating.

The Administration’s refusal to provide accommodations to international students studying at U.S. colleges and universities in the midst of a deadly pandemic is yet another unnecessary attack on immigrants, and a self-inflicted blow to America’s global leadership.

Note

  • This is our perspective based on our reading of the announced changes from DHS and ICE; it is not legal analysis or advice. If you are currently in student status or believe this policy change could otherwise impact you, you should contact an immigration attorney immediately.
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