‘Disturbing and cruel.’ Universities denounce new visa rule for international students | Science



* Update, July 14, 6 p.m .: The Trump administration abandoned his proposal to prevent international students from staying in the United States if they take all of their courses online.

A new American immigration policy announced Monday, which threatens to revoke the visas of some international students if they do not attend classes in person, is causing panic and confusion and pushing some universities to delay their lawsuits. The policy states that international students currently enrolled in online-only programs will have to leave the country immediately or be transferred to a school with in-person classes to legally continue their education. The ad does not explicitly distinguish between undergraduates and graduate students, creating uncertainty for science and engineering graduate students who are research-focused and lacked the knowledge. plan to register for classes this fall.

The policy “is cruel to international students and detrimental to American scientific leadership,” Sudip Parikh, CEO of AAAS (the publisher of Science Careers) – said in a statement released today. “We urge the administration to reconsider and rescind these guidelines.”

Mounika Vutukuru, student at Boston University, holder of an F-1 visa from Canada in the final year of her doctorate. in Electrical and Computer Engineering, first heard about the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announcement on social media. The rule “essentially makes international students redundant in this pandemic,” Vutukuru says. “When I saw the news, I began to realize how depressing and coercive this decision is: we have to deal with the virus regardless of health and safety.”

Vutukuru can be spared from this risk in the end. Her school’s international students office informed her on Monday that she would not be affected as she has completed her classes and is only enrolling for research credits, but she is concerned the new U.S. policy is too vague. to trust this interpretation. “The way it’s written, it’s all based on online lessons versus in-person lessons,” she says. “It is not known where the doctoral students who have completed their courses will fall.”

When U.S. universities closed earlier this year due to the spread of the coronavirus, they moved spring and summer classes to a fully virtual format. Meanwhile, the ICE has made it possible for international students with a visa to take more courses online than is usually allowed. The July 6 announcement revokes that allocation, even though the pandemic has not abated in the United States. “We were waiting for advice on extending the current waiver, but we received this bombshell,” said Andrew Horsfall, assistant dean of international programs at Syracuse University College of Law. “It’s disturbing and cruel.”

The rule applies to students holding non-immigrant F-1 and M-1 visas. The ICE does not allow exemptions if there is an increase in COVID-19 cases near a university, causing an in-person or hybrid course to switch to an online-only mid-semester format. If this happens, visa holders will have to leave the country, seek medical leave from their universities, or take other steps to maintain their non-immigrant status. “Given that [ICE has] explained what might happen later in the fall semester if there was another shutdown, this indicates that they have no plans to make any changes, ”Horsfall said. “That’s what’s scary about this rule. “

Vutukuru waits for things at her home in Mississauga, Canada, but expects she will have to return to Boston at some point in the fall; its program requires graduate researchers to be on campus to receive their stipends.

Students forced to return to more distant homes may face additional challenges, including the risks of travel during a pandemic, the financial burden of airline tickets, broken apartment leases, and additional visa fees at their expense. back to the United States. Some may also see their future career plans derailed. Students with an F-1 visa can apply for internships or work experience in the United States at certain times during their graduation. But to obtain the approval of such training, the student must be in the country during the two preceding semesters. “If I’m a senior and want to work in the United States next year, I can’t be overseas for the fall,” says Anupreksha Jain, Cornell University bioscience graduate and current technician. of research.

Across the country, professors are rushing to find solutions. On Twitter and social networks, hundreds of teachers have offered independent study courses international students who risk expulsion under the new ICE rule. Despite good intentions, a course designed explicitly for international students to avoid expulsion may be seen as problematic by the ICE, which can make students hesitate to enroll and appear to be fraudulent. visa. “The risks are greater for us than for US citizens,” Jain says. “It was as if a lot of the tweets came up with knee-jerk solutions that weren’t fully informed.”

Students of the University of California system also banded together, assembling a spreadsheet where US citizens with confirmed in-person classes offer their places to needy international students. “It’s amazing to see students come into space looking out for each other,” says Horsfall.

Universities say they will try to change the new policy. On Wednesday morning, Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have sued ask a federal court to prevent ICE from implementing the new policy. But some visa holders, already far from home with few sources of solidarity, fear having no choice but to adapt to the new ICE rule. “I take it for granted,” said Vutukuru. “It’s hard to fight when this policy affects you – I don’t know a lot of international students who have the agency to do it.”


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