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Area colleges pledge to support international students following ICE rule change

UPDATED: Fri., July 10, 2020

Eastern Washington University students are reflected in a window on the Cheney campus on Friday, April 12, 2019.  (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
Eastern Washington University students are reflected in a window on the Cheney campus on Friday, April 12, 2019. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

A new Trump administration policy that threatens to revoke international students’ visas won’t have the same impact at every college and university, as institutions have taken various approaches to reopening during the coronavirus pandemic.

But for any international student who had hoped to take online-only courses this fall, the choice is clear: Risk attending at least some in-person classes, or leave the country.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced the new policy on Monday, saying international students with F-1 and M-1 visas will be forced to leave the country or transfer to another college if their schools operate entirely online this fall.

The policy allows international students to remain in the country if they take a mix of online and in-person classes, but none will be exempt – even if an outbreak forces their schools online during the fall term.

The announcement was met with backlash by Washington university leaders, Gov. Jay Inslee, bipartisan members of the state’s congressional delegation, and colleges and universities nationwide. Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of California and the California attorney general are suing in an effort to block the new rules.

In a statement provided by a spokeswoman, Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson said roughly 25,000 international students attend higher education institutions in the state each year.

“Like so many actions by this administration, we have serious concerns about the legality of this rule,” Ferguson said in the statement. “This rule will deeply impact Washington state. Many universities and community colleges will be harmed. We will be evaluating what steps to take in order to protect our students and institutions of higher learning.”

The presidents of Washington State University, the University of Washington, Eastern Washington University and Gonzaga University each responded to the ICE rules in public statements this week, pledging to ensure their international students can continue working toward their degrees.

The rules are “cruel and oblivious to the reality of the pandemic,” wrote UW President Ana Marie Cauce.

“Inappropriate and inhumane,” wrote Gonzaga President Thayne McCulloh.

“Heartless,” wrote EWU President Mary Cullinan.

“Unjust and damaging,” wrote WSU President Kirk Schulz and five other administrators.

“The decision could force hundreds of thousands of international students to leave the United States and threatens the academic work of more than 2,100 students across the WSU system,” the administrators said.

In a phone call Friday, Dean Kahler, vice provost for strategic enrollment management at the University of Idaho, said international students account for about 6% of the school’s enrollment.

Like EWU, UI plans to offer both online and in-person courses next fall, so both domestic and international students can get the mix of courses they desire.

Kahler said larger schools that have announced plans to keep most courses online – like the 23-campus California State University system – will be most affected by the ICE policy.

“There are entire state systems that had declared that they were going 100% online because of the pandemic, and they’re the ones that are really getting impacted by this,” Kahler said.

Whitworth President Beck Taylor echoed that in a statement.

“Our international students are leaders on our campus, and they contribute to the rich and diverse educational experiences that benefit all students,” Taylor wrote. “Fortunately, Whitworth is planning for in-person, residential education this fall, and we are hopeful that these new rules, as objectionable as they are, will not apply to international students at Whitworth.”

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