On Monday, US Immgration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced changes to that require international students to choose between attending in-person classes in the fall or leaving the country. The State Department will not issue visas for students at universities teaching online-only in the fall. This leaves many at universities not offering in-person classes with an impossible choice: transferring schools to fulfill this arbitrary request and risk catching COVID-19, or leave their lives and work behind. Otherwise they face being deported. A researcher I’ll call M reached out to me and described their situation.
“Everyone is telling me to stop being pessimistic but I’m being realistic. I contribute so much to this society and now I have a fear of ICE.”
M is a student and instructor on an F-1 visa at a large, public research university. Leaving the US means going back to their home city, a COVID hotspot where local officials are withholding test results from the public.
Going home and continuing to work from there is an impossibility, because of both an enormous time difference that would make teaching difficult, on top of a lack of consistent internet access. Without consistent internet access their work cannot be done. Documents used for research contain sensitive information and they fear even accessing the documents may result in reprisal or invasions of privacy.
Neither ICE nor M’s university are operating in good faith. ICE’s stipulations for attendance don’t match the university’s, so neither can be satisfied. Minimal face-to-face classes (not enough to satisfy ICE) are being offered, which M sees as just a way to catch COVID-19 and a threat to their life. University administration is preventing students from reaching out to elected officials for assistance.
“I’m way too scared to post anything on social media right now.”
Their university, and by extension the local government, uses international scientists as a source of revenue (counting them as a resident and demanding student fees), without access to many grants offered to other students. Now they are being tossed capriciously out of the country by the federal government after being used as a source of income by the state government.
“I’ve lived in [multiple parts of the US] and I know about ICE and how they deport people and children. I’ve been a scientist and published in all the right journals and it means nothing right now.”