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International students could lose their visas for attending online classes

Last week, international students across the United States received some alarming news. The White House issued a rule that would prevent such students from residing in the U.S. if they did not take at least one class in person.

Amidst the growing health crisis in this country, many colleges and universities are moving towards an online learning model – in an effort to prevent college campuses from becoming coronavirus clusters. The new rule is at odds with the pandemic response of many colleges – and puts the future of thousands of international students in question.

Impact on students

For international students currently residing in the United States on an F-1 student visa, they may face deportation. For students who have returned to their home countries over the summer, they may be prevented from entering the U.S. at the start of the fall semester. In addition, they may lose any tuition or housing expenses they have already paid. From there, students may be in academic limbo as they await reentry into the U.S. – or they may opt to pursue their studies in another country with fewer restrictions.

Impact on schools

The new rule leaves academic institutions with a difficult choice:

  • Dramatically cut the student body by eliminating international students (whose full, out-of-state tuitions contribute a great deal to the funding of many schools), or
  • Open schools to in-person instruction in the fall – and force students, teachers and other staff to put their health and safety at risk

American colleges and universities have increasingly relied on international students for financial support, as U.S. student enrollment has dropped in recent years and state funding has dwindled.

Impact on economy

In addition to the financial support that international students provide to many colleges and universities in this country, the contribution these students make to our economy at large may be even more astonishing. The U.S. Department of Commerce reported that in 2018 alone, international students collectively contributed $45 billion to the American economy.

If this new rule forces international students to pursue their education elsewhere, our nation will suffer even more during this ongoing time of crisis.

What’s being done

Last week, two of the most prestigious universities in the country – Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) – sued the president over the new rule. On Monday, the attorneys general of 17 states and Washington D.C. followed suit – issuing their own lawsuit aimed at halting the rule.

The motivation behind the administration’s new rule remains unclear. Some have speculated that the president’s action is an attempt to force schools to re-open during the pandemic. Others have postulated that the rule is part of the president’s continued efforts to reduce legal immigration in the U.S. Regardless, the impacts on international students and Americans alike could be devastating.

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