As if the thought of Mondays was not grim enough, the United States’ Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) shocked everyone early this week with an announcement that left colleges and international students blindsided.
In their update, all F-1 and M-1 foreign students will not be allowed to stay in the US if their full courses will be entirely online. Active students who are already in the country will have to return home, while incoming students will not be allowed to enter the US. Hybrid classes will still be allowed, but the institution must provide certification.
This poses a major problem for schools as some, including Ivy League schools, have already decided that select programs will be held entirely online in the following fall semester. The institutions have also found themselves scrambling for time to adjust their curriculum. This is due to the fact they only have nine days to inform ICE if their semester will be entirely online. Not only is this bad for international students, but it will also be harmful to US businesses across all industries.
Effects on the US Economy
There are currently over one million international students in the US. Many of them expressed concerns that will be unable to return due to closed borders, or that the internet connection in their home country cannot handle online learning. Despite higher education institutions’ (HEIs) efforts to reassure students, their decision to continue their education in the US is still up in the air.
Data from the National Association of Foreign Student Advisers (NAFSA) showed that these international students supported 458,290 jobs last school year, which contributed $41 billion to the US economy. The majority of these students go on to become skilled workers that have made significant contributions and help fill the growing skills gap.
“At a time when new international student enrollment is in decline, our nation risks losing global talent with new policies that hurt us academically and economically,” said Esther Brimmer, executive director and CEO of NAFSA: Association of International Educators.
Aside from that, a quarter of international students are studying highly technical STEM degrees such as engineering, computer science, and technology. Taking away international students and their ability to return to the US can potentially paralyze multiple sectors and hinder innovation in these fields.
Bringing Diversity in the Classroom
One lasting effect of this restriction is that it can negatively impact future student recruitment. Campus diversity has always been a major selling point for HEIs and if current students decide to move to other study abroad destinations, it can drastically affect their reputation.
The presence of international students enhances the educational experience as domestic students will be exposed to individuals with unique backgrounds and perspectives. A study showed that interacting with people from other racial groups significantly improves one’s learning outcomes. Specifically, it honed the communication, critical thinking, problem-solving, and intellectual engagement of both domestic and foreign students.
Higher Education in Jeopardy
US colleges and universities are already facing huge losses in revenue because of the pandemic, and these new guidelines will only worsen their financial struggle. HEIs are expected to lose $23 billion once the policy takes place. That is on top of the losses caused by refunded tuitions, canceled programs, and decreased enrollment numbers. As a result, colleges that were previously struggling to stay afloat prior to the pandemic could end up shutting down completely.
HEIs see this action as a way to pressure them to reopen campuses despite the growing number of COVID-19 cases. One of the main reasons that schools have adopted online and hybrid learning is to reduce the risk of infection amongst their students, staff, and faculty. Harvard president deemed this new policy as cruel and reckless because of its complete disregard for the health and safety of those involved.
Meanwhile, Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) sued the Trump administration as the visa restriction puts the health of both the students and faculty at risk. Similarly, the University of California is set to file charges against the U.S. government on the grounds that it violates the rights of the University and its students. It seeks a restraining order that prevents them from implementing this policy. Other HEIs have also shown their support and disagreement on the policy.
As the U.S. higher education faces serious jeopardy, the global education community is countering the imposed restrictions to convince the U.S. government to reconsider their new visa policy amid the pandemic.