On July 6, international students learned they would lose their F-1 status if they fail to return to campus this fall, sending shockwaves and uncertainty throughout the community about how to navigate a choice between education and livelihood.
Under new guidelines issued by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), international students attending a school operating under a “hybrid model” — in which classes are held both remotely and in-person — must take at least one in-person class to maintain their F-1 visa. The University’s current plan falls under this model.
The move comes as President Donald Trump pressures colleges nationwide to reopen, though the measures may actually end up pushing international students away from U.S. campuses entirely.
“Their solution is just not a solution,” said College Council Chief of Staff Harry Zhang (22B), an international student. “This policy is forcing students, in order to maintain their status, to come to the U.S. and potentially risk not being able to go back to their only home on the planet.”
A July 7 email from Emory International Student and Scholar Services (ISSS) to international students states the new guidelines are “preliminary pending the publication of a Temporary Final Rule” by the Dept. of Homeland Security (DHS).
The email also noted Emory will provide “advocacy and support” for students, though it’s unclear what exactly advocacy entails. The ISSS office did not respond to multiple requests for an interview, and ISSS’ interpretation of updated visa guidelines do not provide concrete answers.
“I can feel their support but I think their guidance is not sufficient,” said Coco Dong (22B), an international student who recently returned home to China. “I hope they can tell us what options we can have and how do we actually use those options.”
College Dean Michael Elliott told the Wheel in a July 8 statement that Emory College is considering plans to enroll all international seniors and juniors “in an existing directed reading course” that would meet the one in-person course requirement. “We may follow a different strategy for sophomores and first-year students,” he wrote.
Harvard University (Mass.) and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, both of which will have entirely online semesters, filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration on July 8, seeking to prevent the directive.
The University announced on July 9 that it plans to join an amicus brief supporting the suit, accompanying dozens of universities across the nation.
International students will still be able to take a full online course load, but at the expense of their visa. They will have to reapply for it if they decide to return to campus in the future, the ISSS website reads.
“I’m really disappointed … I just think it’s unethical,” Dong said. “I came to the United States because I appreciate the diversity here — I love hanging out with people from all over the world.”
The guidelines are further muddied by travel bans on foreign nationals coming from China, Iran, the U.K., Brazil and most European countries. International students may face complications coming to the U.S. in August and trying to return home at a later date.
Whatever their decision, international students are forced to face burdensome repercussions on their academic and career opportunities.
Dong, for example, hoped to secure a finance internship next summer and, per DHS guidelines, she must live in the U.S. for two consecutive semesters before she’s able to work here. If she takes all online courses this fall, she will have to postpone her graduation and her career goals by a year.
Her parents, however, fear her return to the U.S., the country with the largest amount of coronavirus cases. Like many other international students, Dong is stuck between two poor choices — her health and her education.
And even if international students do continue their education online, sacrificing their visas, time differences will pose a profound obstacle for class attendance and participation.
“You’d have to stay up all night, you’d have to adjust your entire sleeping schedule, your life schedule — for an entire semester, if not for a whole year,” Zhang said.
Outgoing University President Claire E. Sterk and President-elect Greg Fenves wrote in a July 7 press release that the “preliminary guidance sends a message that international students are unwelcome” and the University is working with national higher education institutions to push back against the guidance.
The Young Democrats of Emory called the guidelines xenophobic and a “racist power play by the Trump Administration” in a statement, arguing that universities should not have to decide between community health and tuition revenue from international students.
“We are calling on Emory University to oppose this rule and continue on their promise to have in-person options in the fall, to ensure students are able to stay as Emory students,” the statement reads.
SGA Vice President of Student Experience Erin Sheena (21C) and other students have compiled a list of all in-person classes that will be offered in the fall semester to help international students register for classes.
Students have also created a spreadsheet to allow for domestic students to swap in-person classes with international students.
Students from other universities, including those in the University of California system, Tufts University (Mass.), University of Pennsylvania, Cornell University (N.Y.) and Northwestern University (Ill.) have created similar lists.
Students on F-1 visas attending schools that are operating entirely online may not remain in the U.S. and will have to leave the country or transfer to a school that offers in-person classes in order to maintain legal status, the guidelines read.
Although the University is still planning for some in-person and online classes against a backdrop of increasing coronavirus cases, Interim Provost Jan Love announced in a July 7 University-wide email that fall semester plans could partially or completely change in the future.
Madison Bober and Ninad Kulkarni contributed reporting.
Correction (7/8/2020 at 3:40 p.m.): A previous version of this article stated that New York University and Columbia University have altered their course offerings to accommodate international students. In fact, that was not the case at the time of this article’s publication.
Update (7/8/2020 at 4:20 p.m.): This article was updated to include a statement from College Dean Michael Elliott about Emory College’s plan to consider enrolling international seniors and juniors in a preexisting in-person class.