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CIES Statement on ICE Policy for International Students and Online-Only Instruction

July 10, 2020


On July 6, 2020, the United States (U.S.) Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced that international students studying in the U.S. on F-1 and M-1 visas will no longer be able to remain in the U.S. if their course of study is moved completely online. Incredulously, the policy indicates that international students presently in the U.S. attending a university that shifts from face-to-face instruction to online instruction during the fall 2020 semester will face deportation. It further states that to avoid deportation, nonimmigrant students should consider transferring to institutions that will offer face-to-face instruction, reducing their course load, or taking a medical leave. We unequivocally condemn this decision. We are dismayed and outraged by the guidance provided by ICE.

Given the COVID-19 pandemic, the closing of borders across the globe, and the unknown timetable and implications surrounding these realities, the ICE policy towards international students is misguided and presents considerable risks to their physical health, mental wellbeing, and educational trajectories, while posing a significant financial burden to them and their families. It underscores the increasing xenophobic rhetoric and actions of this U.S. administration while putting these students in direct danger in the midst of a global pandemic. The policy is morally untenable: no student should be threatened with deportation because of a campus decision about public health safety; it is also practically untenable: many students are banned from returning home and cannot return home even if they wanted to because of restrictions against people travelling from the U.S.

Deporting international students as a result of university decisions beyond their control during this unprecedented time is heartless and counter to the values of equity and care that the U.S. stands for. It also undermines every student’s right to education. Colleges and universities in the U.S. are better because of the presence of international students. Communities in the U.S. have been enriched by the contributions of international students, many of whom become our international colleagues and friends, as represented in CIES. International students, you are part of the CIES family and we stand in solidarity with you in these uncertain times.

CIES is a professional association whose purpose is to foster cross-cultural understanding, scholarship, academic achievement, and societal development. CIES Board of Directors calls upon members of CIES, particularly those who are located in the U.S., to use your positions and leverage your power to support and advocate for international students within your immediate and broader communities. More immediately, you can check in directly with the international students you work with and develop plans with them in preparation for the fall semester and their overall wellness right now. Additionally, you can engage with your higher education leaders to encourage them to support the various initiatives being taken to question this policy, identify ways to support international students at your campuses and those in your classes, sign the various petitions that have been created, and provide your expertise within your immediate networks to support international students within your reach. At the national policy level, U.S. Citizens can contact your members of Congress to urge them to support policy amendments to ensure international students can remain in the U.S. for their education.

For us as scholars, practitioners, policy makers, and leaders working on issues related to international students and international higher education, this moment highlights the importance of our work and our voices to inform, and where necessary, challenge immigration policies that deprive international students of their rights to education, and threaten their safety and wellbeing. We add our voice to the many institutions, organizations, and individuals around the world who are equally disturbed by this recent policy announcement. CIES urges ICE to reconsider their decision and amend their policy. International students who are presently enrolled at U.S. colleges and universities should be allowed to stay in the country to continue their studies, regardless of the mode of instruction. We call upon all higher education institutions, their stakeholders and community members, as influential agents of change, to use their platforms and connections with policy leaders to advocate for international students and to leverage institutional resources to demand policy amendments.

- The Board of Directors of the Comparative and International Education Society (CIES)

The CIES Board thanks the Ad Hoc Committee for Social and Policy Engagement and the following Special Interest Groups for initiating and drafting this statement, including Higher Education Special Interest Group,Indigenous Knowledge & the Academy Special Interest Group, and Study Abroad and International Students Special Interest Group.

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