Colleges, with their high-density housing, crowded cafeterias, and thousands of students spending their days in classrooms where social distancing is all but impossible, are a hot spot for all sorts of communicable diseases. With COVID-19 cases spiking in the United States, September is looking to be far too soon to reopen those environments, so many colleges and universities are looking at offering their entire class roster only online. At least for the fall semester.
On July 6, 2020, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) issued a ruling that foreign students taking courses at those schools who have decided to move to online coursework would not be eligible to come to or remain in the United States on their student visas. The ruling prompted immediate push-back from educators and lawmakers across the country.
“International students enrich the educational experience for all,” said California State University Monterey Bay President Eduardo Ochoa. On Twitter, he said of the Trump administration ruling that this would have been “a choice between sending them home or endangering the health of our community.”
“We will continue, during this unprecedented time of global pandemic, to be vigilant against efforts by the administration to harm international students or force universities into rushed and unreasonable decisions regarding in-person instruction,” said Mary Sue Coleman, president of the Association of American Universities. The AAU, along with other inter-university associations and 18 state attorneys general, immediately sued the Department of Homeland Security over the ruling, which would have caused the deportation of over 1 million foreign students here legally for a college education.
On July 14, 2020, Judge Allison Burroughs of Massachusetts announced that the suit was moot, because ICE and the DHS have agreed to rescind the ruling. The news isn’t just good for international students, who make up a sizable percentage of all university students here in the U.S., but for the educational economy as well. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, international students added nearly $45 billion to the economy in 2018, and their tuition, more often paid in full than that of local students, is considered vital to keeping our universities open at all.