On Oct. 28, SUNY Chancellor James Malatras released a statement on behalf of the SUNY system in response to a docket released by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The docket imposes a new rule stating that international students are limited in how long they can stay in the United States, with only two or four years permitted as long as they are an active student. Those coming from certain countries that are designated as “State Sponsors of Terrorism” are exclusively permitted for two years. The countries on the list are North Korea, Iran, Sudan and Syria. The docket also attacks the automatic renewal process for international students. In his response, Malatras stated that the SUNY system opposed the regulations listed in the document in the “strongest possible terms,” and urged the rules be withdrawn.
Binghamton University President Harvey Stenger also stated that “We would like to commend the Chancellor for speaking out against these proposed limitations. In fact, the proposed rule should be withdrawn in its entirety and the admission for the duration of status should remain in effect.”
Malatras’ letter is a great step in making sure international students are protected while they study alongside us. International students bring so much to the table, and often have to deal with so much more than students from the United States. Firstly, international students often pay more to attend universities across the country compared to students from the United States, whether it be higher tuition, travel-related fees or even through currency exchange. In addition to the already difficult transition into college, international students have to also deal with understanding and adapting to a completely different country. The pandemic has, of course, also made every aspect of life harder for international students, many of whom are studying from their home county. There are time differences for meetings via Zoom, restricted access to clubs or programs that would help them acclimate to life in the United States, racism as a result of the pandemic and added difficulty in currently studying under a presidential administration actively working against them.
Despite all these factors, international students still enhance any university or college they attend. According to Malatras, “international students at SUNY schools are contributing $747,156,881 million in economic activity and are supporting 7,685 jobs.” BU is home to 1,820 international students from 98 different countries. The SUNY system has a total of 20,476 international students as well. The impact of these rules would most certainly be felt on our own campus, state and throughout the country. These regulations would cause an estimated $12.5 million loss in international student tuition revenue for BU.
International students also play a large role in strengthening the academic community. Nearly 40 percent of American Nobel Prize winners are immigrants, including our own M. Stanley Whittingham, winner of the 2019 Nobel Prize in Chemistry and distinguished professor of chemistry at BU. Different departments are made of different amounts of international students, many of whom may play a hand in teaching undergraduates, tutoring fellow students or assisting with award-wining research. Many professors at BU and at prestigious universities throughout the country began as international students and matriculated after studying here, these regulations would deny that opportunity to generations of future academics.
One area in which international students could receive more support is through health insurance improvements. Coming from a large amount of different countries, there is obviously going to be different forms of health care that each student will have had access to in their home country. This shouldn’t mean that they have to pay for services they won’t use, like accessing mental health services during the ongoing pandemic or paying extra fees for a University insurance plan that would cover what they already had access to. The mountains of paperwork and forms these students have to go through is difficult enough. We shouldn’t be forcing them to jump through more hoops or attempt to get “world-wide health care” plans, which may be costly and difficult to obtain. Medicaid also doesn’t meet the requirements to access care at BU for any international students, which only makes the process more difficult. BU must work in as many ways as possible to see that international students are taken care of.
We need to keep up a unified support for our international students. They are the ideals on which this country was founded — coming to America for opportunities to learn, work hard and make a better life for themselves. The surprisingly strong statement sent on behalf of the SUNY system is just the beginning of what we can do for our international students. We saw this summer, after action was taken by the Trump administration to revoke visas for students who may have to study online due to the pandemic, that when colleges and universities band together and take concrete action, they can enact real change for those they represent. We cannot falter now in our support of the international student community. They’ve given us their best time and time again — they deserve our all.