Southland university officials said Tuesday they are reviewing a directive from federal immigration authorities that could force thousands of international students out of the country if schools offer only online courses due to the coronavirus pandemic.
On Monday, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced that international students cannot remain in the country if they are taking solely online courses.
“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,” according to an ICE statement.
Many universities, including USC and the California State University system, are planning primarily online instruction this fall due to the ongoing pandemic.
“International students add to the vibrant diversity of CSU’s 23 campuses,” according to a statement from the Long Beach-based CSU system. “The new policy guidance from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement could immediately lead to slowing or even worse, halting of more than 11,300 students’ paths to achieving their higher education goals and potential contributions to our communities and economy.
“We are currently reviewing the new guidance to determine how to reduce impacts to students and will provide information to campuses and students in the near future. The Chancellor’s Office is currently working with individual campuses to re-review online and in-person offerings to determine if they meet the new ICE directives.”
CSU Chancellor Timothy White announced in May that the university’s classes would remain primarily online during the fall term due to the pandemic. He said limited exceptions would be made for “in-person activities that cannot be delivered virtually, are indispensable to the university’s core mission and can be conducted within the rigorous standards of safety and welfare.”
USC officials also said the ICE directive is being reviewed.
“We understand that ICE’s new policy is creating uncertainty & stress for our community,” the university posted on its Twitter page Tuesday morning. “Our international students are an important part of our USC family & we’re working diligently on how to support them. We’ll share info as soon as we can on how USC will address this situation.”
During the 2019-20 academic year, more than 12,000 international students were enrolled at USC, more than half of them from China, according to the university’s website. Anthony Bailey, USC vice president for strategic and global initiatives, said international enrollment for this fall is similar.
“Due to the uncertainty surrounding visas, travel restrictions and flight availability, USC is working to accommodate those international students who will not be able to attend classes on campus this fall by providing the option for many to take their courses online and in their respective time zone,” Bailey said in a statement.
USC had initially been planning a return to in-person classes during the fall semester, but reversed course last week due to ongoing concern about the coronavirus. Fall classes are now expected to remain primarily online, although officials said there would be “limited in-person, on-campus activity.”
University of California President Janet Napolitano called the ICE announcement “perplexing” during a pandemic that has forced campuses to move to online instruction, and said the university is assessing how the changes will affect its international students.
“International students provide unique contributions that enrich our campuses and their perspectives ensure that we continue to be a leading academic force around the world,” Napolitano said. “Making it more difficult for international students to study here undermines decades of collaboration between the United States and our international partners, particularly in fields that contribute to America’s economic vitality.”
Some UC schools — including UCLA — have announced plans to offer a mix of online and in-person courses this fall. UC Irvine plans to offer primarily remote courses, but exceptions are being considered for some clinical courses and upper-division labs.
Across the UC system, more than 40,000 international students are enrolled in undergraduate and graduate programs.
Loyola Marymount University in Westchester also issued a statement in support of international students, calling them “essential members of our LMU family and integral to our culture, our economy and our society.”
“We are working around the clock to support them and safeguard their health, safety and wellbeing,” according to the university. “LMU is examining the new U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement policy and will continue to pursue all available avenues to address their needs and advance their educational ambitions.”
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