Six Pennsylvania universities sent the following letter to the state's Congressional delegation in response to the SEVP guidance limiting online learning for international students.
Dear Pennsylvania Colleagues,
We write on behalf of our respective Pennsylvania universities to respectfully share the attached Dear Colleagues with you and ask you to consider signing onto one or more of the letters they are circulating to DHS Acting Secretary Chad Wolf, or writing a separate letter to him (draft attached for your consideration), in response to this week’s ICE rule that would deport international students enrolled at schools that are shifting to online only courses in the fall. The rule would require universities to make this determination by next week. (We apologize to, and thank, those of you who may have already signed onto or written letters as there are a number of them in circulation and they are continually being updated.)
While we are all eager to reopen our campuses and are incurring significant costs associated with these efforts as we attempt to ensure the safety of our students, staff and faculty in the face of the ongoing uncertainties of COVID, this unexpected rule is creating an additional layer of uncertainty, cost and administrative burden, for students as well as for universities who must review students’ SEVIS records and decide if they will be offering only online classes in the fall and then inform the students they must leave the country in that case. All within a week. This is neither feasible nor necessary.
ICE should stand by its March guidance which stated that the status of foreign students would be protected for the duration of the pandemic crisis. Universities have repeatedly requested that the flexibility provided in guidance for the spring term be extended, not limited, for the fall term. The flexibility enables international students learn during this global health pandemic so they may continue progress toward their degrees, remain safe consistent with state and federal health officials recommendations, and ultimately contribute to our institutions’ learning environments, the nation’s innovation and discovery, and global competitiveness.
This announcement comes too late for many students to consider the possibility of transferring to another institution. Many institutions are starting classes in mid-to-late August. Additionally, international students who cannot transfer may find it difficult to leave the country due to a limited number of international flights. Many international flights that are available are expensive and further, students may be subject to travel restrictions that other countries have put in place. Their health will also be placed a risk by forcing them to travel when they otherwise would not be. In addition, this guidance could force international students to attend in-person classes while ill for fear of deportation proceedings should they halt their class attendance.
Even for those institutions that are attempting to provide a hybrid course model in the fall, there is always the risk that they may be subsequently ordered by their local or state government to cease or restrict in-person learning options due to a COVID-19 outbreak.
We deeply appreciate your consideration of this request and urge you to reject this untimely and ill-considered action.
Carnegie Mellon University
Penn State University
University of Pittsburgh
University of Pennsylvania