International students in the US will have to leave the country or face deportation if they take a full online course load or their schools switch to online-only instruction, according to the new rules announced by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
Nearly 370,000 Chinese students and more than 1 million foreign students are pursuing degrees in the US. Many will be severely impacted by the ICE #StudentBan. The Trump administration defended the ban, claiming that international students “have no basis to be here” if their classes are all online. However, this reasoning makes no sense – it’s like telling tourists have no basis to travel if they can see the picture of their destination online.
In reality, international students should have every basis to stay put and the right to choose online courses during a global pandemic. For example, for many Chinese students, returning home is not even an option. Let’s break down the ICE #StudentBan in 3 parts to show why it is not only cruel, but also harmful for American workers and students.
1 “Active students currently in the United States enrolled in online-only programs must depart the country or take other measures, such as transferring to a school with in-person instruction to remain in lawful status.”
For the Chinese students attending online-only universities, such as Harvard and USC, many simply could not return home. Since the start of the pandemic, both the US and China have restricted the number of flights operating between the two countries in a tit-for-tat fight. As a result, one-way direct flight tickets to China are almost all sold out in the upcoming months. Even flights with multiple layovers are scarce, and the prices have shot up to over $3,000, and in some cases even over $6,000.
While most Chinese students come from families with some financial stability, the vast majority are very different from the Lamborghini-driving, ultra-rich Chinese student stereotype. Many Chinese parents sacrifice a lot and spend all their lifelong savings on their children’s overseas education. These students can’t just pack up their lives in the US, give up their security deposit, and pay for exorbitant flights home.
For the students who somehow got the plane tickets, the quality of their education could be significantly reduced outside the US. Unstable internet, lack of access to Google, having to pay for VPN (or other extra fees) and time differences… similar situations also apply to many other international students in Asia, Africa and Europe. If you are already annoyed by working from home due to COVID lockdown, imagine being forced to get up at 4AM for a zoom class on calculus.
Moreover, forcing international students to leave the US will be detrimental to the American small-businesses that rely on these students for survival. Landlords might not be able to collect rent, restaurants might lose a huge clientele and banks could face more account closures… Fewer businesses mean more layoffs, which is the least thing we want to see when the unemployment rate in the US is still over 10%.
If these international students choose to stay in the US, they have to immediately transfer to another college with in-person instruction. But transferring schools is not like simply switching tables in restaurants - it’s almost impossible on such a short notice and incurs significant financial costs that many students cannot bear.
For readers unfamiliar with what it's like to live and study abroad, applying/going to American universities as an international student is an arduous, expensive journey. Just to get into an American college, we have to pay for TOEFL exams ($200 each) on top of SAT tests, full college application fees (no fee waiver), legal and financial paperwork, F-1 visa application (over $200), the cost of traveling to a US consulate for visa, plane tickets, etc. Asking international students to spend the time and money on repeating the college application process all over again, not to mention the huge relocation costs, is beyond inconsiderate.
2 For schools that offer a hybrid model (a mixture of online and in-person classes), international students who wish to stay in the US cannot take a full online course load.
Stripping international students of their rights to choose freely between online and in-person classes is inhumane and catastrophic. Why? Because it forces international students to choose between deportation or risking their health by attending classes during a global pandemic. By pushing so many international students to return to the classroom, the new policy puts all students, staff and professors in extreme danger, especially those with underlying health conditions.
Moreover, for universities with a large student body and limited in-person course offerings, it is very difficult for international students to get enrolled in-person classes. Especially for underclassmen who don’t have enrollment priorities! For example, my own cousin, who has worked so hard in the past 4 years to earn an offer from UC Davis, could not even come to the US for college because all the in-person classes had been filled.
Other students are scrambling to enroll in in-person classes completely unrelated to their studies. I can’t imagine how painful it would be if I were forced to sit in an advanced astrophysics seminar and have nothing to contribute besides my knowledge gleaned from watching Interstellar. Granted, it might be a great learning opportunity, but this should be my choice, or else it’s just unfair to me and the other astrophysics students.
3 The U.S. Department of State will not issue visas to students enrolled in schools and/or programs that are fully online and these students will not be permitted to enter the United States.
Some supporters of the #StudentBan argue that international students don’t need to come to the US if they can learn everything online. But Chinese international students like myself choose to study in the US not just for the diploma.
We are here for the experience of living in another country, learning about its history and culture, challenging our own beliefs and becoming friends (even if virtually) or even falling in love with the people here. Yet we increasingly feel unwelcome here: by the growing anti-Asian racism, the relentless identity-based accusations that we are either spies or brainwashed, and the recent threats of deportation. By closing its doors to immigrants and foreign students, the US is closing its doors to the diverse talent that this country is built on.
4 How can we push back on the ban?
If you are American: call/email your reps to help your classmates and colleagues. It's super easy, just a few clicks here will generate an email to your local representatives. If you prefer having a personalized phone call or email, you can refer to this template my friend Sam created.
Sign the White House and Change.com petitions (both American and non-American citizens can do so)
Email your professors and encourage them to write op-eds in newspapers (an effective strategy endorsed by higher education lobbyists)
Email universities and push them to protect international students by offering in-person classes and going to court with the Trump administration as Harvard and MIT did
- Donate to ACLU
Lastly, international students need to SPEAK UP. We should participate in student government politics, advocate for our rights, and inform the American students unaware of how precarious our situation is.
American students and graduates, you have the privilege and political rights that many of us around the world don’t have. We need you. VOTE, call your representatives, protect international and undocumented students. American higher education institutions are prestigous because of the diverse talent it attracts and the synergies that people with different perspectives create. Don’t let the ICE #StudentBan destroy what we have.