St. Paul, Minn., Jul 16, 2020 / 10:32 am (CNA).- A US Immigration and Customs Enforcement directive that would have forced thousands of international students to leave the country has been rescinded after it was challenged by a litany of lawsuits.
The directive, which was announced July 6, denied visas to international students with an exclusively online course load. It came after many colleges and universities announced plans to conduct the fall semester online, throwing the fate of international students into turmoil.
Catholic institutions praised the reversal of the directive.
The Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities said in a statement that they were “heartened by the agreement” reached in the lawsuit between Harvard-MIT and the government.
“Our institutions’ ongoing advocacy stems from valuing global collaboration and having a keen awareness that the Jesuit mission of forming persons who are charged with making the world a better place is one that has no borders or boundaries,” said the AJCU.
President John J. DeGioia of Georgetown University, who signed an amicus brief in support of the Harvard-MIT lawsuit, told the university’s press that he was “thankful for the news” of the reversal. Previously he had called the ICE directive a “reckless action” on the part of the government.
The directive “creates new and unnecessary barriers for international students and puts their health, stability and academic progress at risk if they are unable to participate in classes in person,” DeGioia said. It failed to “recognize the invaluable contributions of our international students within our community and the impacts of this abrupt change during an ongoing pandemic.”
The Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities also spoke out against the directive, calling it a “heartless” policy.
“These are young people fully vetted by the U.S. government, given clearance to study here, and now partway through their programs. Sending them home, without a degree, would force them to start their lives over simply because a university is trying to keep its faculty and students safe as contagion levels continue to be unpredictable,” the ACCU stated. “There are difficult decisions to make in challenging times, but this is not one of those.”
Shivam Mishra came to the U.S. from Jamshedpur, India, to study accounting at the University of Dallas, a Catholic University in Dallas, Texas. Although the university plans to open for in-person classes in the fall, it is prepared to go online if it is overwhelmed with cases.
For Mishra, who is working towards a masters in accounting, the ICE mandate would have threatened his ability to earn his license as a Certified Public Accountant.
“I have invested my time, money, and then I was away from my family, my parents and everyone,” Mishra told CNA. “I came to the US just to have better opportunities.”
Rahul Ashok Lobo, a rising junior who is majoring in economics and political science at Notre Dame University, led the international student response to the university’s dealings with international students and the ICE mandate.
Lobo, who was born in India, grew up in the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, and now holds a passport from the United Kingdom, said that the policy changes “throw any sort of semblance of planning out the window.”
“Information hasn't been very forthcoming recently, and that really leaves us and our imaginations to run wild in terms of what the fall semester is going to look like,” Lobo told CNA.
Even after the ICE policy was rescinded, Lobo said that a lot of uncertainty remains. Since the university has stressed the value of the in-person experience, it may continue to encourage international students, especially first year students, to take a leave of absence.
The ACCU also voiced concern for first year students.
“Yesterday’s decision resolved these issues for existing international students. We hope the administration will address the needs of new international students using the same flexibility during this pandemic,” the organization said in a statement.
Lobo said that not only are international students enriched by the campus experience, but the campus is enriched by a diverse student body. This fall, though, the campus will likely not be as diverse.
International students offer “a diversity of thought, opinion, background, and experience,” said Lobo. “But the way things are looking, much of what Notre Dame prides in terms of diversity will simply be absent from fall semester on campus.”
Julie Sullivan, President of St. Thomas University in St. Paul, Minnesota, said in a statement that international students are an “integral and cherished part of the fabric of our community.”
“We are very grateful for the diverse, global perspectives our international students bring to the St. Thomas community, our state and our country,” Sullivan said.