International Student Visas

Dr. Nicole Pettitt
Download: Audio icon 00148.mp3

In early July, the federal government attempted to leverage international student visas in an effort to force colleges and universities to hold classes face-to-face. On July 6th, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) rescinded a policy that permitted international students to maintain their visas even if their programs shifted to online instruction due to the pandemic. The earlier policy was to have remained “in effect for the duration of the emergency.”

Though the pandemic had not ended, international students whose universities or colleges went fully online would have faced a choice:  either transfer to another institution — which may not have been possible — or depart the country.
Students who couldn’t arrange to transfer and who failed to leave may have faced deportation and, potentially, a 10-year ban on reentry to the USA
The policy reversal also would have hurt US institutions of higher learning. International students currently compose 5.5 percent of the national student body, and 350 students from 50 countries at Youngstown State University. They contribute immeasurably to our academic and local communities through intellectual production and cultural diversity.

By July 14th there was reason to believe that this anti-student measure had been defeated, thanks to a number of high profile lawsuits brought by major universities. But the celebrations were short-lived. On July 24th, it was reported that the COVID accommodations would apply only to students who currently hold visas or who are already physically located in the USA.  New visa applicantswill still have to show that their program of study includes significant face-to-face instruction. This policy flip-flop means that incoming international students, who are already accepted to their programs of study, and who have made arrangements to move internationally to enroll in U.S. institutions, have been betrayed, their lives upended.

In light of what may nowbe considered a partial and precarious victory at best, we must remain both attentive and active around immigration issues, which have taken a particular form under President Trump.

We are deeply concerned about Preesident Trump’s xenophobic rhetoric which inspires hate across the country. He has stated he supports immigrants, provided they immigrate legally. Yet he has paired these statements with measures that have limited the scope of legal immigration.

For instance, the Trump administration has lowered the annual cap for refugee admittance from 85,000 to 15,000. It also placed legal asylum seekers in camps and forced others to wait for asylum hearings in Mexico. Trump has made clear that he opposes family reunification and cast doubt upon the entire life-saving asylum process, Furthermore, under the cover of the pandemic, the administration has selectively suspended multiple types of work visas, and temporarily ceased issuing new green cards,. The President's policies have favored white-Christian immigrants, often from more advanced economies, while placing major obstacles in front of Muslims and people of color.

If this unsettles you, here’s what you can do. Vote! Make sure you are registered and register others. Stay informed by following local and national immigrants rights organizations, and pass on what you learn. Donate to them if you have the means. Contact your state and federal representatives regularly.

We are also effective when we act locally, as many people in the Mahoning Valley did in response to ICE raids in Sandusky and Salem in the summer of 2019. Local support was also offered to asylum seekers released after wrongful internment in the CoreCivic prison right in our backyards.

These actions, in support international students, refugees, asylum seekers and immigrants, not only make economic sense. More importantly they’re the right thing to do.

(The views expressed are those of the authors alone and are not necessarily shared by YSU or any of its academic or administrative units.)