EVERETT — Local colleges are closely monitoring legal challenges to new federal rules requiring international students attend classes on campus despite a pandemic or lose their visa status.
The U.S. Department of State will not issue visas to students enrolled in schools that are fully online for the fall semester and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement won’t allow such students into the country.
Those already in the U.S. and enrolled in colleges that have gone online for fall quarter “must depart the country or take other measures,” such as transferring to a school with in-person instruction, or face “immigration consequences,” according to the new rules.
Because of the COVID-19 spread, the federal Student and Exchange Visitor Program instituted in March a temporary exemption allowing foreign students to take more online courses for the spring and summer semesters than normally permitted by federal regulation.
Harvard and MIT have sued to try to overturn the new rules. So have 17 states, including Washington where Attorney General Bob Ferguson has filed a lawsuit in federal court challenging the Trump Administration’s proposed visa rule for international students. Approximately 27,000 international students attend higher education institutions in Washington state. Roughly 1,000 attend college in Snohomish County.
“President Trump and ICE need to let colleges and universities make their own decisions about the health, safety, and education of their students, not arbitrarily and illegally punish schools that want to provide classes remotely,” Ferguson said in a written statement.
His 29-page motion for a temporary restraining order said the ICE directive “is supported by neither logic nor law,” and leaves colleges with an impossible choice: lose students who bring in tuition money or try to retain them by offering more in-person classes but add to the coronavirus risk.
The policy change, which takes effect Wednesday, would be felt at Edmonds College and Everett Community College, according to the presidents of both institutions.
Edmonds College has more than 700 international students from more than 60 countries with the largest contingents from China, Vietnam, South Korea, Japan, France, Indonesia, Hong Kong and Taiwan. Most are seeking transfer degrees to four-year universities.
“We’re extremely concerned about the impact this ruling will have on our international students and their ability to progress and complete their studies,” said Edmonds College President Amit B. Singh. “We’ve heard from students about the implications to their studies abroad. The possibility of being legally forced to return to their home country without finishing their studies weighs heavy on those who remain in the U.S.”
Edmonds will offer hybrid, online, and face-to-face class options in the fall, but with more online sections than usual. That’s the case nationwide at many universities where a mix of online and in-person classes will be offered in an effort to protect faculty, students and the surrounding communities.
“Many of our international students may not be able to finish their studies and be forced to return home which makes their future very uncertain,” Singh said in a written statement. “As a college, we are well known for our robust international program which enhances and enriches the culture of our campus and community.”
At Everett Community College, most classes will be taught online in the fall given safety concerns and a rise in the number of COVID-19 cases reported within Snohomish County. EvCC has more than 250 international students from more than 30 countries. It accepted its first international student in the late 1940s.
In a message to students and followers of the college, EvCC President Daria Willis said she was dismayed by the new restrictions.
“Our international students are part of the Trojan Nation. And Trojans stick together,” she wrote. “We will find a way to make sure all international students have a schedule that complies with ICE and the U.S. Department of Education rules.”
For now, the college is working closely with the Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges to learn more about the rules and what it can do to help its students, she said.
The University of Washington plans to have more in-person classroom instruction in the fall, but warns that it could have to pivot to all-remote learning if the virus begins to spread quickly again.
UW President Ana Mari Cauce wrote in a blog post last week that the university is working with the state’s congressional delegation, federal officials and higher education associations.
“Taking away that flexibility is cruel and completely oblivious to the reality of the pandemic in this country, which, unlike the outbreaks that many of our allies have tamped down, continues to surge,” she wrote. “And at a time when America’s global leadership is under severe strain, during a crisis demanding a spirit of international unity and cooperation, this proposal isn’t just cruel, it’s counterproductive.”
UW has 8,300 students on F-1 visas from 123 countries and they add about $185 million in revenue to the university, according to Ferguson’s lawsuit. The university showed it has lost $440 million in revenue due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Seattle Pacific University President Dan Martin said the ICE announcement has caused fear and concern among the university’s more than 170 international students who come from 39 countries.
“I am surprised and disappointed by this new regulation, especially in the face of a global pandemic as it adds an extra layer of unneeded worry for international students regarding finances, travel, health and safety, remaining at their institution of choice, and making progress toward their academic goals,” Martin stated in an email to followers of the university.
Nationally, about 9% of American colleges are planning for online only in the fall with another 29% proposing a hybrid model, according to the Chronicle for Higher Education, which is tracking what’s become a fluid situation. Another 57% are planning for in-person instruction and others are undecided about what to do.
Eric Stevick: firstname.lastname@example.org