“It has never been a level playing field, but this makes it more apparent.”
International students worried about a new immigration policy that could potentially cost them their visas say they feel stuck between being unnecessarily exposed during the coronavirus pandemic and being able to finish their studies in America.
Jasdeep Mandia, a doctoral candidate from India studying economics at Arizona State University, said he is scrambling to devise plans after federal immigration authorities notified colleges this week that international students must leave the U.S. or transfer to another college if their schools operate entirely online this fall.
Mandia, 35, has breathing problems that could worsen if he gets sick from COVID-19. He had originally planned to conduct all his fall studies online, but the Trump directive has put the shaky standing of international students on display.
“It has never been a level playing field,” he said. “But this makes it more apparent.”
Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology filed a lawsuit this week to block the decision, and now California has become the first state to seek an injunction against enforcing the new visa policy.
“Shame on the Trump Administration for risking not only the education opportunities for students who earned the chance to go to college, but now their health and well-being as well,” California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said Thursday.
Many American universities have come to depend on the revenue from more than 1 million international students, who typically pay higher tuition. President Donald Trump has insisted they return to in-person instruction as soon as possible, alleging that schools are being kept closed to harm the economy and make him look bad.
The guidance was released the same day Harvard announced it would keep all undergraduate classes online this fall. Harvard said the new Trump directive would prevent many of its 5,000 international students from remaining in the U.S.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce said the directive could inflict “significant harm” on colleges, students, the business community and the economy.
A U.S. State Department press release said the policy “provides greater flexibility for non-immigrant students to continue their education in the United States, while also allowing for proper social distancing on open and operating campuses.”
A day after Harvard sued, the university notified the court that immigration authorities appear to be already enforcing the policy. A lawyer for Harvard urged the judge to suspend the rule, saying that a first-year student from Belarus was turned away from his flight at a Minsk airport. There is another hearing Friday.
While some students in other states are already feeling pressure from the new policy, ASU spokesperson Katie Paquet told The State Press that its students shouldn’t be impacted by the new rule.
“ASU does not believe the new regulations and procedures proposed by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement will have a material impact on the University or its international students,” she said in an email.
During an interview with KTAR on Thursday, ASU President Michael Crow spoke out against the policy, accusing Immigration and Customs Enforcement of incorrectly imposing new restrictions on international students.
“[ICE] didn’t follow any administrative procedures which [it’s] required to do. There’s no logic to this,” Crow said. “These programs have been in place around the country for 100 years.
“There’s a million international students in the United States. It’s a principle American export of both our culture and everything about it. It’s an important part of the United States.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.