Statement on ICE Guidance on International Students and Online Learning

Policy and Advocacy International Education
July 9, 2020

On Monday, July 6, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced that the temporary modifications allowing international students to take more online courses than usually permitted would not be extended after the summer academic term. This means that students attending U.S. colleges and universities operating entirely online risk losing their legal student visa status and will have to transfer to another institution with in-person instruction or leave the country to study online from outside the U.S. in order to maintain legal status.

This update to the Student Exchange and Visitor Program (SEVP) contributes to ongoing uncertainty and stress for international students, who already have been isolated by campus closures, the inability to travel home without putting at risk future employment or a return to the U.S., bans issued by their home countries for travelers coming from the U.S., and a federal policy landscape hostile to immigrants. The SEVP update also creates barriers for prospective students who might consider studying in the U.S. at a time when other countries are opening doors to them. The updated guidelines introduce a particular challenge for graduating students, who must be in the country when applying for optional practical training. 

This week, NASPA joined the American Council for Education (ACE) and over 30 higher-education associations in a letter to Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf to oppose in the strongest possible terms the new guidance issued by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The letter asked that DHS withdraw the guidance as soon as possible, and grant needed flexibility for our international students and institutions during the global pandemic.  

NASPA has advocated for policies that foster the full participation of immigrants and international students, faculty, and staff in our institutions. The ICE decision does the opposite, exacerbating uncertainty, erecting barriers to participation, and causing harm to students. At a time when colleges and universities are weighing fall opening plans that prioritize safety and flexibility, the ICE procedures, which require institutions to submit instruction plans by July 15, potentially would harm institutions and international students that need to engage in online instruction as the safest way to resume fall courses and facilitate students’ progress toward graduation. International students would bear a disproportionate toll, undermining their ability to remain contributing members of their campus communities.

NASPA and the International Education Knowledge Community encourage campuses to reach out to their international students, faculty, and staff to direct them to resources and support in light of this new policy and of the recent announcement about the suspension of H1-B and other temporary work visas.