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AG, MSU officials and community fight to keep international students in the US amid new regulations

July 14, 2020
<p>The International Center pictured on July 7, 2020.</p>

The International Center pictured on July 7, 2020.

Photo by Matt Schmucker | The State News

A recent federal decision may force international students across the country to leave the U.S. if their classes are fully online during the upcoming fall semester.

When Emily Joan Elliott, who earned her Ph.D. at MSU in 2019, learned of this, she thought of her friends: an international student on a F-1 visa with a child who is a U.S. citizen, and an international student in a romantic relationship living with their partner.

"What happens to them?" Elliott said.

The federal rule, released on July 6, said that nonimmigrant students attending a U.S. college will not be allowed to remain in the country if their fall classes are all online. At MSU, 75% of classes will be at least partially online.

Under these new regulations, Elliott's friends, as well as all other international students in the U.S., will be forced to leave the country if they are unable to enroll in a class with in-person instruction.

Amid growing concerns for the future of international students, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, Michigan State University officials and community members have taken action to keep international students in the U.S.

MSU community calls for university president to use power to change ICE decision

MSU doctoral candidate Heather Brothers and Elliott were inspired to create a community platform designed to call MSU President Samuel L. Stanley Jr. to action by their friends who are international students.

"I don't want to speak for international students, but within my immediate circle of friends, three of my closest friends in Michigan are international students," Elliott said. "... They had concerns about attaching their name to a vocal complaint."

The Google form, titled "Letter to MSU President Stanley Regarding ICE Decision," asked Stanley to use his power to advocate for changing the recent rule. Additionally, community members can enter their information to show support for the statement.

"We felt as U.S. citizens, born in the United States, we were in a safer position to maybe initiate something," Elliott said.

Before publishing the letter, Elliott and Brothers consulted their friends who are international students. Elliott said the letter has received just under 400 signatures as of Monday.

Elliott and Brothers' letter points to MSU's mission statement, specifically the statement that the university seeks to shape students into those who can "contribute fully to society as globally engaged citizen leaders" and "make a positive difference, both locally and globally."

Elliott and Brothers state this goal cannot be met without the presence of international students, according to the letter.

The letter, as well as those who sign it, request that Stanley take specific actions to keep international students in the U.S. regardless of class format. On Monday, MSU officials made an announcement that fulfilled many of Brothers and Elliott's requests.

"Our international students deserve better": MSU joins the fight against federal rule

MSU joined 58 other institutions of higher education from 24 states and the District of Columbia in filing an amicus brief against the new federal rule Monday, according to a statement from MSU officials.

Collectively, these 59 institutions enroll 213,000 international students each year, according to the statement. The institutions state "a fundamental principle of administrative law is that the government must provide a reasoned explanation for its actions and consider all important aspects of an issue before imposing burdens on regulated parties."

On March 13, guidance released by ICE provided flexibility for schools and allowed international students with F-1 and M-1 visas to take online classes for the duration of the COVID-19 emergency, according to a statement from the attorney general's office. However, on July 6, ICE announced international students would not be permitted to live in the U.S. and take online classes during the pandemic.

The attorney general's statement also cites ICE's requirement for educational institutions to report to the federal government if they intend to offer only remote instruction during the fall semester by July 15.

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“The federal government’s new directive that unilaterally places additional restrictions on international students without consideration for the undue burden it causes to so many is profoundly concerning and incredibly unfair to those who have come to us to further their educations," Stanley said in a statement regarding MSU's support of the amicus brief.

The amicus brief states four failures of the new federal rule, according to the statement:

  • "It fails to address substantial reliance on the government’s previous policies."
  • "It gives no consideration to the dilemmas it imposes on schools and students."
  • "It fails to consider the enormous and disruptive compliance burdens it imposes."
  • "It is devoid of any reasoned explanation or justification."

According to the statement, MSU has also been in conversation with members of Michigan’s congressional delegation and university organizations to "to lend its voice and advocacy to protect international students."

“MSU is proud to stand beside our higher education colleagues in this fight,” Stanley said in the release. “Our international students deserve better and we are demanding it on their behalf.”

MSU will host an open discussion July 15 with members of the International Student Association to hear concerns and give additional information on MSU's actions to protect its international students.

Attorneys general lawsuit against DHS and ICE

The fight to keep international students in the U.S. also reached the state level when Nessel joined 17 other attorneys general in filing a lawsuit to stop the entire federal rule from going into effect.

The lawsuit was filed against the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, or DHS, as well as the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, in the U.S. District Court in Massachusetts on Monday.

The lawsuit "alleges that the federal government’s actions are arbitrary, capricious and an abuse of discretion because they reversed previous guidance without explanation, input or rationale," according to the release from Nessel's office.

Nessel said this rule could endanger lives and strain the financial health of educational institutions and states, according to the statement.

“International students play an incredibly valuable role in the learning process at Michigan’s colleges and universities, and contribute not only to the vibrant culture of those institutions but also to our local economies,” Nessel said. “This is just another example of the Trump administration using our educational system to make a political statement, at the expense of our students and schools."

Educational institutions are required to certify if each international student's coursework will be in-person or a hybrid of in-person and online instruction by Aug. 4, according to the statement. This certification would determine each individual international student's visa status.

The attorneys general said the federal rule will negatively impact their states in many ways, according to the statement:

  • The rule fails to consider the safety and/or health of faculty, students and staff.
  • The rule fails to consider the costs and administrative burden caused by imposing schools to readjust plans and certify students.
  • For many international students, remote learning in their home countries is not possible.
  • The rule will harm schools financially, as international students "pay hundreds of millions of dollars in tuition, housing, dining and other fees."
  • This rule would negatively impact the academic, cultural and extracurricular communities of colleges and universities by excluding international students unable to remain in the U.S.
  • The rule would force colleges and universities to choose between offering in-person classes amid a pandemic or losing international students forced to leave the U.S., transfer or unenroll.

Additionally, the statement said the new rule will impose national economic harm. This impact will occur by precluding thousands of international students from arriving in and residing in the U.S., as well as finding employment in fields such as "science, technology, biotechnology, health care, business and finance, and education, and contributing to the overall economy," the statement said.

The U.S. District Court in Massachusetts will hear oral arguments July 14, according to a statement from MSU officials.


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