On July 6th, 2020, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) made changes to their Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP). The news release is linked here. These changes, which are really assaults through policy, entail that international students who are in the U.S. in fall term that do not enroll in a class with an in-person component are not eligible to be enrolled and thus may not remain in the United States. ICE makes clear that students who remain “May face immigration consequences including, but not limited to, the initiation of removal proceedings.”
This change to SEVP is transparently an assault by the federal government on higher education, and the government admitted to as much as detailed in a Vox article. As the article notes, “Ken Cuccinelli, the acting deputy secretary of Homeland Security, told CNN that the policy change was meant to “encourage schools to reopen” — part of the Trump administration’s goal of forcing American life to resume even as Covid-19 continues to spread and the death toll mounts. Foreign students who have made significant sacrifices and commitments, both financial and personal, to study in the US are thus being used as political leverage.” This point is not speculative, and is confirmed by a member of Homeland Security.
The University of Oregon’s (UO) Division of Global Engagement at international.uoregon.edu lists four informational links designed to clarify what is happening for their international students. They consist of a description of Federal Rule Changes, of Frequently Asked Questions, of a message from University President Michael Schill, and a message from Dennis Galvan, Dean and Vice Provost of the Division of Global Engagement.
Yesterday, the BIPOC caucus drafted a letter in response to ICE’s SEVP changes. That letter may be found and signed in support here. This letter will be sent to UO’s administration tomorrow morning on July 9th, 2020. Anyone is welcome to use the letter as a template and reuse it wholesale for their own particular organization or purposes. No need to credit us. We do, however, credit Trent McDonald and the folks at WUGWU for sharing their letter, which we drew heavily from in form and content for our own. In our letter, we asked that the University use its resources to support international students in a variety of ways, including striving to be transparent and share information with international students about what these changes mean.
It is our hope that the University comes through with information as the changes continue to develop. Below, I will list what information the University has shared so far. The purpose of this is to help others navigate the University’s breakdown of the information, as it is difficult to sort through the different communication channels and interpretations of the SVPE change.
This information is published on the International Student and Scholar Services webpage. The page lists that “the UO is steadfast,” and “fighting this latest exclusionary move.” The page does not explain what being steadfast means, nor how they are fighting the changes in any specificity.
The page consists of two sections: what “we know,” and “how it impacts international students,” both F-1 students in the U.S. and those outside. I have copy/pasted the page’s information below with some commentary in italics.
“What we know”
- The main change is that international students who are in the U.S. in fall term cannot enroll solely in classes that are entirely taught online.
- Students may take more than one entirely online class, but may not take all their classes in that format. They need to take some classes that have an in-person instructional component.
- For next year, UO plans to offer many courses with an in-person component (e.g., lecture remote, but with lab or discussion section in person), making it possible for UO students to enroll in a manner allowed by these proposed rules.
- Universities must certify that students are taking the minimal necessary online classes for degree progression. We have a plan on how to certify this for the fall, and are currently seeking clarification from relevant authorities on this plan.
- We are seeking clarification on how this impacts remote classes (live, synchronous instructional interaction via Zoom or another digital medium, not in-person). The proposed rules seem to use “online” and “remote” interchangeably.
- International Student & Scholar Services will review every student’s fall enrollment and contact students individually if there is any chance the student may not be in compliance with these rules.
- The rule does not prevent students who are out of the U.S. from enrolling entirely in online classes. UO is moving forward with our soon-to-be-announced #NoVisaNeeded alternate enrollment for international students who cannot enter the U.S. –This is a confusing point that needs more clarification.
- This is an announcement of an upcoming rule change, to be finalized soon. The announcement includes the near-final language for the new rules. It still contains ambiguities that will likely be clarified in the coming days.
“Here’s how it impacts international students:
- For F-1 international students IN the U.S., the following rule changes apply to fall term 2020:
- Students must take at least one in-person or hybrid course (a mixture of in-person and online/remote).
- Students cannot take all online courses.
- Students should only take the minimum number of online classes required to make normal progress in their degree program.
- Students will receive an updated I-20 certifying that 1) the UO is not operating entirely online, 2) the student is not taking an entirely online course load for the fall 2020 term, and 3) the student is taking the minimum number of online classes required to make normal progress in their degree program.
- For F-1 international students OUTSIDE the U.S., the following ICE/SEVP rule changes apply to fall term/semester 2020:
- Students can enroll in online or remote classes, part-time or full-time.
- While students are enrolled from outside the US, we now must temporarily deactivate your SEVIS record (this is a change in rules which used to let us keep SEVIS records active for students outside the U.S). When students can return to the U.S., SEVIS record will be reactivated or new initial I-20s will be issued, depending on guidance from SEVP.
The FAQ is a useful page in terms of how it attempts to lay out the information for the international students who are affected by these changes. Affected is, of course, in many cases an understatement: many face the prospect of their lives being put into danger.
The most important questions, which concern what UO is doing, remain completely unanswered. Instead, the page contains frustrating platitudes about being steadfast, diverse, and generally “fighting.” We desperately hope for and demand specifics on these points.
We note that the “UO is prepared to certify that we are not fully online, that international students in the U.S. are not taking 100% of their classes online.” We find this to be a problem in the sense that the University should not be offering classes in person at a time when COVID-19 is spreading rapidly and killing many.
We do not accept the false dichotomy that we must choose between international students and the safety of the whole. We do not accept attempts at separating us. The health of one of us is the health of all of us.
We look forward to the University’s response to our demands.
This message contains no information that gives insight into material support for international students, though it has been linked for any who wish to consult it.
This message links to the breakdown of the proposed rules and invites people to contact International Student Services if any have questions. We find it frustrating to be invited to send emails for questions when pertinent information should be made available online. As none of these sources thus far list what the University is doing beyond sharing what they know so far, we look forward to the University meeting the material demands of our letter, which has accumulated 600 signatures as of July 8th, 2020.