The recent decision by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to ban international students from the U.S. whose schools switch to online classes for the fall semester is ill-considered and reckless. According to the new policy, non-U.S. citizens taking exclusively online courses this fall must leave the country or risk violating their visa status. The policy applies to all F-1 and M-1 visa holders, who are in this country for academic and vocational education. According to U.S. government statistics, ICE granted more than 373,000 visas of this type last year.
This policy is wrong for three reasons. First, the U.S. succeeds when the world’s “best and brightest” come to this country to study. Americans are quite rightly proud of their country’s attractiveness to the rest of the world. When people from across the globe come to America to earn a college education or a graduate degree, it signals our country’s strength in the education sector and helps to cultivate a spirit of entrepreneurialism and exploration. We should be encouraging internationalism, not squelching it. Jeopardizing international students’ place in American colleges and universities undermines one of this country’s most enduring and valuable traditions: a commitment to higher education.
Second, international students’ contributions to the U.S. economy are considerable. The Commerce Department estimates that $45 billion entered the U.S. economy from international students in 2018. About 62% of these students receive the majority of their school funding from external sources, including their families and home governments. Academic research on higher-education funding shows that international students pay a high net tuition, relative to domestic students. The presence of international students thereby constitutes a bargain for American students. Essentially, international students subsidize domestic students.
Philadelphia’s institutions of higher education, including the University of Pennsylvania and Temple University, would clearly suffer from the new ICE policy. This past academic year, 5,333 international students attended Penn, and 3,325 international students attended Temple. Both schools have announced a hybrid model for the fall of 2020, in which students who do not feel comfortable with in-person instruction can take their courses remotely. ICE’s policy would force these schools’ international students into an impossible scenario: Take one or more in-person classes and risk infection with COVID-19, or take only remote classes and risk deportation.
Third, the policy is mean-spirited and offensive. ICE is terrorizing noncitizens who have come to the U.S. to study, forcing them to — like many other migrants in the country — worry about their legal status in this country. International students already deal with the stress of being far from their homes. As a result of this policy, they and their loved ones will have to deal with the additional fear of expulsion.
Forcing international students to choose between exposure to a deadly virus and deportation constitutes cruelty. There is no logic to ICE’s new policy. It does not make Americans any safer, and it appeals to the worst instincts in the American psyche. Stigmatizing noncitizens is not new to the United States, but the public health crisis makes it much worse.
America prospers when its colleges and universities are open to diverse populations. The Trump administration ought to rescind ICE’s decision, for the good of the country and those international students who contribute so much to it.