There’s a universal feeling of confusion and frustration amongst college students in the United States right now. With many schools moving toward entirely remote semesters, or incorporating a hybrid-learning model in the wake of the current coronavirus pandemic, plans for the 2020-2021 academic year are changing at a breakneck speed. Various universities still intend to open their doors with proper health care precautions, while others, such as Princeton University, will stagger their graduating classes throughout the year. The usual stressful process of student planning seems to escalate every day.
For international students, however, this uncertainty is tainted by an additional unpleasant feeling: fear.
On July 6, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced a new set of guidelines for foreign students studying in the country during the pandemic. According to the report, non-immigrant F-1 students (who are pursuing academic coursework) and M-1 students (who are pursuing vocational coursework), “attending schools operating entirely online may not take a full online course load and remain in the United States.” The U.S. Department of State will not be issuing new visas, and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection patrol will not permit international students to enter the country if they’ve already left, regardless of if they have visas or not. Students already enrolled in universities moving completely online must “depart the country or take other measures, such as transferring to a school with in-person instruction to remain in lawful status.” If they don’t, they face “initiation of removal proceedings.”
Additionally, nonimmigrant F-1 students who are attending in-person classes are “bound by existing federal regulations.” They can take a maximum of one course online to remain in the country, which may or may not be possible with their universities’ altered plans. Nonimmigrant F-1 students taking hybrid model classes will be allowed to take more than one course online, but must have their school submit proof (Form 1-20 or the “Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status”) that the semester is not entirely online to the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP). There’s also the risk that students will have their international statuses revoked while taking classes from another country, leaving them unable to return to the U.S. until further notice.
As we head into fall, international students are ultimately being given the choice to risk their health by attending (or transferring to colleges with) in-person classes, complete their semester online from another country or be deported. With more than one million of the United States’ college students coming from overseas (addressed in a report by the Institute of International Education), this affects a significant amount of the higher education population. A NAFSA report found that international students contributed nearly $41 billion to the U.S. national economy during the 2018-2019 school year, as well as created and supported more than 458,000 jobs. This is leading many to prepare for even more severe economic damages to the country.
ICE’s new protocol only adds to the Trump administration’s reckless leadership throughout the entirety of the coronavirus pandemic. It also mirrors the fear of deportation that affects undocumented citizens every day, as well as the racist and xenophobic perspectives geared toward Asian communities since the beginning of COVID-19. The pandemic’s severity is forcing all individuals to alter their lives moving forward, and the misguided decision to shut nonimmigrant students out is only making this a more distressing time for them. Various colleges, including Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of California, have already announced plans to sue the federal government in order to protect student visas, with UC president Janet Napolitano calling ICE’s regulations “mean-spirited, arbitrary and damaging to America.”
Over 1,900 international students attend Pratt. The Office of International Affairs (OIA) stated that, as of July 7, current international students who want to stay in New York City should embark on a hybrid learning semester, and students who do not wish to should prepare to leave the country in the fall. Students will need to deactivate their SEVIS-120 forms while they’re away, and Pratt hopes to be able to reactivate them if a student wants to return to campus for the spring semester (beginning January 2021). New students studying remotely must obtain an updated SEVIS-120 form with a new arrival date for the spring semester.
On July 9, the OIA Instagram account announced that international students enrolled in hybrid coursework during the fall should be able to remain in New York City throughout the fall and winter break.
As stated in President Bronet’s recent statement, Pratt is currently “making every effort to proceed with our plans to reopen in the fall and provide hybrid instruction options for all students,” with a full list of new in-person and online courses available on July 20 via the Student Self-Service Portal. She also mentioned that the Institute is working closely with elected local and federal officials, as well as national and local organizations (such as Commission on Independent Colleges and Universities in New York (CICU)), amongst others, to discuss protocols moving forward.
On July 10, Pratt announced that they had signed an amicus brief alongside other members of the Association of Independent Colleges of Art & Design (AICAD). The statement emphasizes that “working together with our peers, we will do all that we can do to support our international students.”
For more information, get in touch with Pratt’s Office of International Affairs via phone (tel: 718-636-3674, fax: 718-636-3497) or email (firstname.lastname@example.org), or check out their statement/FAQ here. To find out how you can advocate against the new ICE guidelines, check out NAFSA’s how-to guide here.