U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced modifications to its Student and Exchange Visitor Program on Monday, July 6; students attending U.S. universities on F-1 and M-1 visas may not remain in the country if their university goes fully online for the fall semester. Students that do not comply and depart the country “may face immigration consequences including, but not limited to, the initiation of removal proceedings.”
In addition, the directive states student attending universities holding in-person classes may not take more than one class (of a maximum of three credit hours) online. Students attending universities utilizing a hybrid model are allowed to take more than one class or three credit hours online.
Brent White, vice provost for Global Affairs for the University of Arizona, issued a statement on Monday assuring international students that the university is working on a plan that would comply with the new SEVP modifications.
“We have developed a range of learning modalities to provide on-campus, in person courses for all students in the Fall 2020 semester, under modified conditions as necessary to limit the spread of COVID-19," the statement said. "Regardless of whether the broader university is mostly online this fall, we are working to provide safe on-campus, in person courses for international students that will comply with Student Exchange and Visitor Information System requirements, so that you may remain in country.”
The Dean of the College of Humanities, Alain-Philippe Durand, released a memo on Wednesday expressing solidarity with the affected international students.
“To all of our international students, I assure you that we will offer whatever support is possible for you to continue your educational journey with us in the Fall," Durand said in his statement. "Like many faculty and staff members across campus, I came to the United States on an F-1 (student) visa and know what it is like to be an international student. This life experience is what allows me to know without a doubt that your presence makes our college more diverse, more rigorous, and illuminates the human condition more than would otherwise be possible.”
The memo also confirmed that faculty and staff are working with administration to offer courses in-person that would meet the SEVP requirements and allow the students to continue their study in the U.S.
“Yesterday, Provost Liesl Folks emailed all faculty that her office is ‘working swiftly to ensure that we will have at least some in-person options available for all undergraduate and graduate international students in the U.S. on the affected visas that will comply with SEVP requirements, so that they may remain in country to complete their academic plans,'" Durand said.
Until these plans to accommodate the SEVP modifications are announced, students attending the UA on F-1 visas are left worrying about their uncertain fall semester future.
Helena Grinling is a junior majoring in nutritional sciences with a minor is business administration. She described her initial reaction upon hearing of the ICE directive that could jeopardize her fall semester plans.
“When I first heard about the directive it felt like my whole world was about to come crashing down,” Grinling said in an email to the Daily Wildcat. “It seemed like a slap in the face as I and many students have worked so hard to get to where we are today. To have it all taken away from us just because we are international students feels extremely unjust.”
She also explained how the modifications would complicate her academics if the university is unable to provide accommodations that would satisfy the new SEVP requirements.
“I am currently thinking about the options available to me if Arizona goes fully online," Grinling said. "If this happens it means I would have to find a school either in Arizona or out of state to transfer to that teaches in-person. It would have to be a quick transfer and I am slightly nervous it will be complicated. My other option is to go back to London and do the Global campus program, however, that has implications on my visa and my ability to come back when this all clears up. Plus, at the moment there are travel bans and no direct flights. It would be riskier to take a couple of planes than staying put.”
In light of the new obstacles that international students face, one professor has offered aid in the form of an independent study to possibly satisfy the new SEVP requirements.
“If you are at University of Arizona and need an in-person class to handle this ICE rule, we can do an in-person (outside and while at least 6 feet away from each other) independent study if that helps the situation. I hope my colleagues who can do so join me in this offer,” Jennifer Earl, professor of sociology, wrote in a tweet on Monday.
The Daily Wildcat asked Earl what her thoughts were on how the SEVP modifications will affect international student community.
“I don’t want to speak for international students since I can only imagine what they are going through," Earl said via email. "My tweet was really about trying to let students know that I, as a professor, and my colleagues, care about them and want to find a way to resolve this. Personally, I hope a broader solution than independent studies is developed, or the policy is rescinded, but I wanted students to know right then that we care and many of us would do what we can to help.”
With many factors at play, international students are left with much uncertainty about what their fall semester will look like. Even with the possibility of returning to campus (given the university can accommodate the new SEVP requirements), Grinling explained that the ICE directive will force international students jeopardize their health for the sake of their education.
“I understand U of A is not requiring students to return to campus if they do not wish so and there are options to make your schedule fully online," Grinling said via email. "As an international student, we will have to go to classes in-person even if Arizona goes fully online (if the ISS can accommodate this). I think it is unfair for international students to have to risk their lives to stay in the country, especially those who have underlying health conditions. To make it worse, most of us are far away from home with no family, and being alone with COVID in a foreign country is scary.”
The U.S. International Student Services Office is hosting Q&A sessions via Zoom on the SEVP modifications next Wednesday, June 15. Students can register for these sessions on the ISS Programs and Events Page.
In his weekly reentry update sent out on July 9, UA President Robert Robbins reassured students that the university will work with international students to meet the new SEVP requirements so that they can stay in the U.S.
“The University will comply with federal laws and regulations, but I am deeply troubled by the negative impact this change may have on our international students,” Robbins said in the email. “We remain committed to working toward an equitable solution for these important members of our community, and we will assist them in selecting classes to meet the new requirement that they have some in-person classes. We also will work with international students who are in a high-risk category for COVID-19 complications to help ensure they can meet the requirement while still having enriching but lower risk educational opportunities at the University.”
Editor's Note: This article has been updated with a statement from President Robbins.
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