BU Vows to Push for Reversal of New ICE Rule for International Students
Policy is “xenophobic,” “misguided,” president and provost say
Boston University will support two lawsuits and congressional action to fight new federal immigration guidance requiring international students with F-1 visas to leave the US, or transfer to another school, if their university is offering only remote instruction in the fall.
BU President Robert A. Brown has directed University officials to join an amicus brief being filed in support of a lawsuit brought by Harvard and MIT against the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) policy. The brief asks the federal district court to enjoin the rules from going into effect. In addition, he has instructed BU lawyers to provide support and evidence to Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey as she files a lawsuit in US District Court next week to prevent ICE from enacting the new guidelines.
Brown also wrote Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf, asking that the policy be withdrawn. BU’s international students, Brown wrote, “push the boundaries of scientific and artistic discovery, enriching our society in the process. Given the challenges posed by COVID-19 for the fall 2020 semester, the recently proposed changes to the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) are deeply troubling and misguided. I urge you to withdraw this guidance and instead extend the flexibility currently afforded to institutions and international students.”
The University is also working with the Massachusetts congressional delegation, members of which have criticized the new policy, “to express our concerns,” says Jennifer Grodsky, BU’s vice president for federal relations.
“The new policy is counterproductive, damaging to the progress of international students who fuel the strength of our national research universities, and xenophobic,” says Jean Morrison, BU provost and chief academic officer. “It should be reversed.”
The University’s Learn from Anywhere (LfA) format will offer students a combination of in-person and remote learning this fall, and many international Terriers surveyed in April planned to study on campus, which would keep them out of the new guidance’s net. But the rule will pose a problem for international students who were planning to study online only from within the US this fall.
Willis Wang, vice president and associate provost for Global Programs and deputy general counsel, also notes that in the event a university “needs to go fully online in its teaching modality due to public health concerns, the planned guidance requires that international students must leave the US.”
“Moreover, the guidance jeopardizes the active visa status of our F-1 students if they are outside of the US and unable to come to BU in Boston to study, unless BU offers courses only online,” he says. “The guidance seems to only allow their status to remain active if they are outside the US and their university is only offering online classes. But we are doing hybrid. These provisions are extremely harsh and exhibit a mean-spirited approach by US ICE, and create a serious chilling effect on international students seeking to study in the United States.”
Morrison and Wang sent a letter to international students Thursday, explaining what they know of the new rule while asserting the University’s opposition to it. “We are deeply troubled by this unexpected federal guidance which causes anxiety, disruption, and harm to international students across the country in the midst of a global pandemic,” their letter said.
“We recognize the painful implications of the planned federal guidance,” it continued, “and also know that the guidance presents many uncertainties and unanswered questions. BU continues to actively seek clarification and ways to limit the impact of the planned guidance on our international students, while we advocate for a complete reversal of the guidance.” They wrote that BU is “committed to providing unqualified support to international students, including supporting legal efforts that seek to prevent the US Government from putting the new guidance into action.”
In a separate letter to the University community sent Wednesday, Brown wrote, “The effect of the new guidance is to drastically limit the options for international students to study in the United States, particularly if they are unable to be physically present for on-campus instruction. This is a misguided regulation that flies in the face of all that Boston University and other institutions are doing to give our international students the flexibility they need to make progress in their studies.”
“At Boston University,” Brown tells BU Today, “we have been working tirelessly so that our international undergraduate and graduate students have quality options so they can continue to make progress in their studies through the disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The new guidance from [ICE] moves us in precisely the wrong direction, limiting student choices and unfairly forcing international students to leave the country unless they are attending in-person classes.
“I would urge the administration to rescind this guidance and give our international students the full range of learning options in this time of unprecedented uncertainty for everyone.”
Morrison said the LfA format “was developed to address precisely this kind of situation. It is working as intended, by providing a means by which our international students already in the US can continue their studies at BU instead of having to leave the country or transfer to another institution.”
BU sponsored more than 11,000 international students last year, including graduates and undergraduates. In April, the University surveyed them and found that half had remained in the US after the shift to remote-only learning in the spring; most of those students indicated they planned to return to campus when it reopened for the fall semester, and therefore would fulfill the new ICE requirements, says Jeanne Kelley, the ISSO’s managing director.
“A lot has changed in three months, but, hopefully, a significant number of our students will be back,” she says. New students, meanwhile, “should be eligible to receive student visas to begin enrollment in the LfA format once the US embassies start processing again. Alternatively, international students will be able to enroll remotely from their home country if they are unable to return due to COVID-related travel restrictions or prefer to stay home for the semester.”
The federal Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) allowed schools and international students maximum flexibility in spring and summer. The new rule could make students’ complicated personal decisions to return to their home country or remain in the US during the COVID-19 pandemic even more complicated, Kelley says. As for BU students who were planning to study online only from within the US this fall, “we suggest they try to come back to Boston to participate in hybrid instruction, if possible,” she adds. “Alternatively, international students still have the option to study remotely for the semester from their home country. We will continue to explore options with them so that they can make the decision that is best for their health, safety, and academic success.
“It is incredibly disappointing that ICE is taking a more restrictive approach to the fall in the middle of the ongoing health crisis. It is important that F-1 international students continue paying attention to this evolving situation by reviewing details of the proposed new rule on the ISSO website, and by contacting their ISSO advisor with specific questions.”
ICE’s new rule followed President Trump’s insistence that schools and higher education institutions reopen their campuses this fall, something he says Democrats oppose for political reasons. Some universities, including Harvard and the University of Southern California, have opted for online education only, citing concerns about COVID-19.
Mary Sue Coleman, president of the Association of American Universities (AAU), a research consortium of which BU is a member, denounced the new rule as “immensely misguided and deeply cruel to the tens of thousands of international students who come to the United States every year. It is also likely to do further damage to our nation’s universities, which are already struggling with unprecedented uncertainty, massive logistical complications, and significant financial losses due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.”
“In particular,” Coleman said, “the impact on international graduate students and undergraduate students already in the United States will be devastating, causing massive disruptions in their learning and research. This policy change would also have negative economic impacts, because international students spend millions of dollars in our communities every year. AAU is working to quantify the impact of this new guidance, which forces sudden, difficult decisions on international students and universities trying to look out for the safety of their students, faculty, and staff.”
Morrison and Wang concluded their letter by saying, “As international students, you are vital and welcomed members of Boston University, bringing a wonderful diversity of ideas, backgrounds, and energy that makes our University the vibrant and academically nurturing place that it is for everyone in our community. We will continue to advocate for the reversal of this policy.”