International Students Fight to Stay

The Student and Exchange Federal Program (SEVP) recently announced that international students who are enrolled in online courses must leave the country or transfer to an in-person school. Before this policy decision was reversed, international students were forced into the challenging position of choosing between their education, their visa status, and their residency during a global pandemic.

In pursuit of the American dream and education, many international students aspire to attend a university in America. Their dreams help fund the university system in contributing expensive international fees on top of tuition and board. According to the Department of Commerce, they (~1,095,299 students) have contributed $44.7 billion dollars to the US in 2018. [1]

International students often go on to achieve great success in the STEM fields and to become the future leaders of tomorrow. It is significant to recognize that “not only are we educating public leaders for other countries, but each one of these foreign students is helping to educate Americans, their fellow students, about the rest of the world.” [2] The impact of International students affects foreign relations and perception of America among other countries.

The recent announcement on July 6th from the Student and Exchange Federal Program called for international students who are enrolled in online classes to leave the country or to transfer to an in-person school. Universities who have committed to being online in the fall, such as Harvard University and MIT, filed a lawsuit against the U.S. government to protect the risk that international students would face. [2] Due to the legal pressure, a week later the Trump administration reversed their decision. However, just a few days prior these students were facing a major life dilemma, forced to make a choice between two homes, and, under the stressful circumstances of COVID-19, risk losing their U.S. visa.

Anchita Dasgupta, a Brown University student from India, is under pressure to either choose to enroll in-person classes and potentially expose herself to the virus, or to stay in India and risk losing her visa [3] With the pressure of her career aspirations and family abroad, she is concerned with her choices.

Another student, Omer Tunc, a Georgetown University student from Turkey, would face the problems of unreliable Wi-Fi and time differences that prevent steady remote class discussions if he chooses to stay in Turkey. [3]

These students demonstrate a few of the problems caused by the U.S. original  decision. The policy disregarded the pain and stress induced onto the individual students. In addition to holding clear anti-immigrant sentiments, the decision was designed to pressure universities to reopen for the fall despite concerns about COVID-19. Thankfully the repealed decision allowed these students to stick with their original plan and avoid the distress.

If universities lose their international students, they may be forced to make deep budget costs to account for the lost revenue. As The Hill article explains,  “these losses fall harder on support staff- the janitors, cafeteria workers, and maintenance staff… rather than on professors with tenure”. [4] The now-reversed policy served as a reminder of the significant financial contributions from international students.

Despite the world being on pause because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the message caused an uproar among students and faculty. Thankfully, this decision was reversed due to immense legal and public pressure. However, the fact that the U.S. attempted to implement such a xenophobic and anti-immigrant policy raises questions about whether this country should be such a coveted destination for international students. 

1. Sreeradha Basu and Prachi Verma, “Explained: Why US cannot say no to international students”, The Economic Times, last modified July 11 2020, https://economictimes.india

2. Amy Mackinnon and Augusta Saraiva, “ICE Restrictions on International Students a ‘Self Inflicted Wound’”, Foreign Policy, last modified July 10 2020, /07/10/ice-restrictions-on-international-students-a-self-inflicted-wound/

3. Susan Svrluga and Dan Rosenzweig-Ziff, “After ICE cracks down on online learners, international students scramble for backup plans”, The Washington Post, last modified July 10 2020,

4. Phyllis Jordan and Brooke Lepage, “Trump’s attempt to remove international students might hurt his bottom line”, The Hill, last modified July 11 2020,

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