By Peter Harsha, CRA Director of Government Affairs
On Monday, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE) disclosed its intent to remove its current, temporary exemptions on F-1 and M-1 visas. The exemptions allowed students on visas to remain in the USA during the spring and summer even if they were taking all their classes online because of the pandemic. The removal of the exemptions would mean that any students on student visas who are not taking at least some classes in person will cease to be in compliance. Thus, if they are enrolled in colleges or universities that will move their fall classes online for safety of their community, those students would be forced to either (a) transfer to another institution where they must take classes in person, despite any health risk, or (b) leave the country. It also means that foreign students accepted for fall at those institutions will not be granted visas to enter the USA.
The hundreds of thousands of students — across all academic disciplines — who will be affected by this policy are here legally but will potentially fall out of compliance through no fault of their own, as their institutions react to an extraordinary, global pandemic. CRA believes this policy is ill-conceived, cruel and will damage the U.S. research ecosystem greatly, perhaps for years to come. The uncertainty created by this policy, and by the other immigration policy decisions restricting other foreign students and researchers issued over the last several weeks, will certainly discourage more of the best minds in the world from studying and researching in the U.S., to our great detriment.
CRA is working with our partners in the science advocacy community and the higher education community to make this case to policymakers in Congress and the Administration. We are also working to develop resources to help our member institutions contend with this unprecedented situation. For now, members of our community who wish to weigh in on the inadequacy of this policy decision are encouraged to contact their representatives in Congress. Find out who represents you in Congress. Contact information for your Senate delegation.
And specifically to our international students, know that CRA cares about you and will do everything we can to protect and support you.
When there are new developments, we will do our best to bring them to you here.
UPDATE: Wednesday morning, Harvard University and MIT sued the Trump Administration in an effort to block ICE’s Visa order. In a statement similar to CRA’s, the two universities said that they filed a pleading in Federal court, “seeking a temporary restraining order prohibiting enforcement of the order.”