Asan Anarkulov, an international student holding a visa and a senior majoring in mechanical engineering, was ready to complete his undergraduate education at Binghamton University and receive his degree next May. However, like other international students, those aspirations are now dimmed with temporary exemptions being implemented for visa-holding students.
On Monday, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced modifications to rules made by the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) concerning international students holding F-1 (academic coursework) or M-1 (vocational coursework) visas. The new rules are classified as temporary exemptions for fall 2020 and state that if a student’s institution is to go fully online, an international student may not endure the online course work and must leave the United States.
Since BU has laid out a plan for a hybrid model of both online and in-person classes, the SEVP rules mandate that F-1 and M-1 students can stay and take their classes normally as long as they are not taking solely online classes and are taking enough credits to complete their degree on track. Additionally, universities must submit their fall plans to the SEVP by July 16 for them to track.
In an email sent out by the International Student and Scholar Services (ISSS), Patricia Bello, director of ISSS and assistant provost for international education and global affairs, and Donald Nieman, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs, wrote of BU’s continued hybrid model and how it will affect international students.
“Here is what we can tell you now,” Bello and Nieman wrote. “[BU] will not be fully online in the fall.”
Bello and Nieman wrote that they are committed to working with international students and their situations.
“We will work with all students who plan to be on campus to create schedules that include fully in-person and hybrid courses to keep them in good status,” Bello and Nieman wrote. “The week after Thanksgiving, all hybrid and in-person courses will have a one-week online component, and, therefore, will not affect the status of students.”
The email provided a survey to gather information on international students’ plans for the fall semester. Although the email states the University “will not be fully online in the fall,” this contradicts BU President Harvey Stenger’s plan, released prior to the SEVP’s new rules, which has indicated that there is a possibility BU would go fully online if COVID-19 cases were to rise.
In a statement from Stenger and Nieman, the two addressed the regulations and contradictions with recent statements on fall plans but gave no solution to the issue.
“While [BU’s] plan for the fall will allow international students to comply with federal regulations, the proposed guidelines could create problems for international students in the event of a COVID-19 outbreak that would require us to shift to fully online instruction to protect the safety of our students, faculty and staff.”
These new rules have been submitted under the guidance of the Trump administration, which has received backlash from universities and colleges across the nation.
According to The New York Times, Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have recently made efforts to sue the Trump administration to prevent the policies which deny international students permission to study in the United States. While Harvard plans to fully transition to online classes for the upcoming year, many universities such as MIT have begun planning hybrid models.
Ryan Yarosh, senior director of media and public relations, noted that BU joins MIT and Harvard in discontent.
“We join other colleges and universities in urging ICE to allow international students with a valid visa to continue their education regardless of whether a student is receiving their education online, in person or through a combination of both, whether in the United States or in their home country, during this unprecedented global health crisis,” Yarosh wrote in an email.
Several higher education associations such as the American Council on Education, the American Association of Community Colleges, the Association of American Universities and the Association of Land-grant Universities have shared similar concerns and are expected to support the lawsuit. ICE has made no comment on the developments.
For Anarkulov, these rules mean having to go back to Kyrgyzstan, a nation with rising COVID-19 cases. If BU were to go fully online, Anarkulov would be forced to go back home.
“The death count is increasing by the day as the health system is collapsing,” Anarkulov wrote. “Returning to Kyrgyzstan is simply unsafe. This is not to mention the fact that my family has made enormous financial sacrifices for me to have the opportunity to study at [BU].”
Tavish Srivastava, a senior majoring in computer science, has been affected similarly to Anarkulov.
For Srivastava, if BU goes fully online, these new rules may terminate his education entirely because his student visa only lasts until he graduates with only three months to find a job. If successful at finding employment, he can stay in the United States for four years as a science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) major, but for others that do not study STEM fields, they would have one year left to stay after finding employment. Srivastava has been worried about finding a job right after college because of his visa limitations and now, these limitations are limiting him even more, Srivastava wrote.
“If they decide to kick me out for a semester [or] a year, I’m not even sure I can get a visa extension or something along those lines,” Srivastava wrote. “So now this throws my entire college career down the gutter because you can’t really transfer credits to Indian institutions.”
Srivastava, although thankful for BU for having the hybrid model, believes that the University should be doing more for international students.
“BU [has to] at least send out something to us,” Srivastava wrote. “I’m not asking them to break the law and not deport us, if they have to, but I ask them to try their best to fight it off.”
Anarkulov agrees that BU must step in for international students.
“The current issues imposed by ICE are not something I can overcome with hard work and sheer will,” Anarkulov wrote. “This is a matter of jurisdiction. I cannot do this without [BU] protecting international students,”
With the possibility of not being able to finish his degree, Srivastava questioned why he would put so much money and effort into his education in the U.S. with a higher price of living than his home. Srivastava also wondered if the economic aid that international students provide to academic institutions will be absent with fully online classes.
“We, the international student body, are customers and are pouring millions of dollars in the American economy and now you want to get rid of us?” Srivastava wrote. “You want to lose money? It just doesn’t make sense. It seems like someone is going out of their way to deny us our education, which I just don’t get.”
In a statement from Stenger and Nieman, it is noted that international students make up 12 percent of BU’s enrollment and contribute $41 billion annually to the U.S. economy, making higher education the fourth-largest export in the nation. International students also help to stabilize the price of in-state tuition and give public universities the opportunity to function with dwindling state support.
According to the World Bank, a 10 percent increase in the number of international students who pursue graduate degrees in science and engineering leads to a 4.5 percent increase in patent applications and a 6.8 percent increase in university patent grants.
When the outbreak first occurred, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) provided pliability and adjusted to the situation accordingly to provide students with F-1 and J-1 visas the authorization needed to take courses online. Stenger and Nieman stated the importance of allowing flexibility with the new rules and called for further action.
“What we — and, most importantly, our students — need is the flexibility that DHS provided in March 2020 allowing international students to take all of their classes online should public health concerns necessitate a pause in, or cessation of, in-person instruction,” Stenger and Neiman wrote. “Consequently, we implore DHS to revisit the guidelines and ask that our federal representatives work with DHS officials to extend the flexibility that it allowed in March.”
Additionally, Stenger and Nieman noted the impact of international students on the community and discussed the importance of addressing varying experiences and perspectives that contribute to diversity on campus.
“Our international students have made significant investments in their education, and it would be an act of bad faith to prevent them from continuing their studies through graduation,” Stenger and Nieman wrote. “Universities have made elaborate plans based on guidance we have received from DHS. To change the guidelines six weeks before classes begin will do irreparable damage to universities and their students — all of whom benefit from the diversity, passion and intellect that international students contribute.”