Visas Will be Denied to Online-only Students as Colleges Go Online-only

Harvard joins a growing list of universities who will not offer in-person classes this year.

The Trump Administration has issued a bizarre policy that will keep deny immigrant students admission to the United States if their colleges don’t offer in-person classes.

For weeks, if not months, America’s colleges and universities have been wrestling with how and whether to re-open in the fall. Parents, quite understandably, don’t want to pay exorbitant prices for an on-campus experience only to have their students taking classes over Zoom. Professors, especially older and immunocompromised ones, understandably don’t want to risk their health during an ongoing pandemic with no end in sight.

Different institutions are making different decisions, based on the conditions of their local area and other factors. My oldest stepdaughter is a rising senior at Temple which had initially decided to open in the fall but then shift to remote classes after Thanksgiving. Last week, the announced they were remote-only for the fall.

Others, frankly, seem to be playing bait-and-switch, being vague about their plans until they get their tuition money.

Yesterday, Harvard sent a shockwave through the system, announcing that they would bring only 40 percent of their students back to campus at one time but that there would be no in-person classes for the entire academic year. So far as I know, they’re the first major institution to announce they would remain remote in 2021.

Later in the afternoon, surely by coincidence, a second shoe dropped.

CNN (“International students may need to leave US if their universities transition to online-only learning“):

International students who are pursuing degrees in the United States will have to leave the country or risk deportation if their universities switch to online-only courses, Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced Monday.The move may affect thousands of foreign students who come to the United States to attend universities or participate in training programs, as well as non-academic or vocational studies.

Professors and administrators are scrambling to figure out what this means. My own, decidedly unexpert, reading of the announcement is that the change only applies to students whose institutions are not offering online instruction. The second paragraph explicitly states that, for other institutions, the existing rules would still apply and the third states that students who are taking some classes in-person and some remotely would be allowed to stay.

Some worry that, for example, international graduate students who are finished with their coursework and simply doing doctoral research would be swept into this. That’s not my reading but it’s entirely possible.

This policy seems unnecessary and cruel. It’s hard to read it any other way given the context of this administration’s other policies on immigration.

There’s an argument to be made, I suppose, that if the only reason an individual is being given a visa is to attend classes, and they can do so from their home country, there’s no reason for a visa. But that misapprehends the college experience. There’s substantial value in being away from home, making friends, and learning from one another.

To the extent the change is related to stopping the spread of COVID-19—and there is no suggestion that it is—it would seem at best a random measure. The decision isn’t based on any characteristic of the student but rather the vagaries of their school’s opening status.

Putting these two stories together, though, there will certainly be increased pressure on colleges and universities which have a substantial immigration population to consider the impact of only-only on those students. We may, perversely, put people’s lives at risk to prevent immigrant students being left out of the experience.

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FILED UNDER: Academia, Borders and Immigration, Education, Higher Ed
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Sleeping Dog says:

    This policy seems unnecessary and cruel. It’s hard to read it any other way given the context of this administration’s other policies on immigration.

    Yup. This reeks of Stephen Miller.

    But like many administration pronouncements, this will be likely watered down.

    11
  2. Kathy says:

    This policy seems unnecessary and cruel.

    Seems?

    4
  3. Mikey says:

    This policy seems unnecessary and cruel.

    The cruelty is the point.

    10
  4. Joe says:

    I wonder whether my local developer community that has poured millions into facilities catering to our foreign students are going to pause and wonder whether the Trump administration is really worth their effort.

    5
  5. Michael Cain says:

    I see it as more of an indirect “Open up, dammit!” order to many colleges and universities than as direct cruelty to foreign students. Harvard and its immense endowment may be able to easily withstand losing the foreign students’ tuition and fees for a semester or three. At least one of the schools where I got a degree, and still receive graduate alumni announcements, is much smaller and poorer and will really miss the full tuition and fees paid by their substantial foreign student body. They’ve been hinting at being in-person at least some; this is likely the straw that pushes them to “we’re going to hold classes on campus, much like always.”

    1
  6. So far as I know, they’re the first major institution to announce they would remain remote in 2021.

    FWIW, the Cal State system (23 campuses) had announced back in May (IIRC) that they would be basically online in the Fall.

    2
  7. This ruling, BTW, creates more chaos in what is already a chaotic situation as it pertains to international students and the Fall. A lot of students have had to go home and cannot come back, while others have been stuck in the US knowing that if they went home, they likely could not return in the Fall (visas are a mess and airline travel is currently unreliable and often prohibitively expensive).

    Speaking from a position of direct professional experience, the Trump administration has done grave damage even before Covid-19 to the ability of international students to study in the US and this is just another example.

    This is to the detriment of the students in question, the colleges and universities in question (who rely heavily on these tuition dollars), and to the broader economy of the United States (which benefits simply from having those students here, as well as often once they graduate). It is also detrimental, over the long term, to US influence globally as less US-educated persons worldwide cuts down on exposing US culture to the world/making sometimes lifelong connections between US citizens and citizens of the world.

    It is foolhardy in every way.

    It is also cruel given the current pandemic to make life harder on these persons when the compassionate thing to do is to try and make it easier.

    17
  8. James Joyner says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    FWIW, the Cal State system (23 campuses) had announced back in May (IIRC) that they would be basically online in the Fall.

    Yes, a lot of schools are going online in the fall. Harvard is the first I’ve seen announce that they were online in the spring as well. Most seem to be playing wait and see on the second semester.

  9. @James Joyner: Gotcha. I am so myopically focused on Fall, that I misread your comment.

    (Although as I told two colleagues yesterday, at the moment I cannot imagine the Spring being any more “normal” than the Fall).

    2
  10. James Joyner says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    (Although as I told two colleagues yesterday, at the moment I cannot imagine the Spring being any more “normal” than the Fall).

    Unless there’s a vaccine, I see no reason why it would be. I think the natural tendency is to delay making hard choices until the last possible moment. I was shocked that Harvard went this bold, although I think it’s inevitable.

    3
  11. Joe says:

    This is to the detriment of the students in question, the colleges and universities in question (who rely heavily on these tuition dollars), and to the broader economy of the United States (which benefits simply from having those students here, as well as often once they graduate).

    While this is not the most important part of the problem, Steven, the very presence of these students on U.S. campuses adds to the experience of all other students and the campus communities to which these students add culture in general and add their home cultures specifically. This policy is gratuitously ridiculous on all levels.

    11
  12. senyordave says:

    Another bad policy designed to excite the base. I think you can expect to see more of this type of thing, policies that make no real sense and just add to the impression that the US is inhospitable to anyone but Americans (as long as they are white). They assume it will excite the base, but something like this doesn’t seem (to me) like it would resonate to someone in rural PA. But the again I never thought a man with gilded bathroom furnishings in his penthouse suite would appeal to the “common folk”.

    1
  13. Gromitt Gunn says:

    These fools can not help but take every opportunity to diminish us, at home and on the world stage. Huge sectors of our economy are built on the sweat equity and brainpower of international students turned immigrant entrepreneurs.

    The rest of the world will benefit from our jingoistic folly.

    9
  14. Erik says:
  15. @Joe:

    the very presence of these students on U.S. campuses adds to the experience of all other students and the campus communities to which these students add culture in general and add their home cultures specifically. This policy is gratuitously ridiculous on all levels.

    100%

    8
  16. grumpy realist says:

    For colleges that have been hesitating whether to open or not, it may push them in the “open” direction.

    It will also piss off a lot of people, no matter what. So much for our welcoming international students!

    P.S. Mary Trump has accused Trump of having had a ringer take his SAT tests. Anyone surprised?

    5
  17. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    Two tangentially related questions:
    1) If Harvard isn’t smart enough to provide a safe environment for their students, is there any reason to think local elementary schools can?
    2) Are parents really going to pay $50,000 a semester for their kid to take online classes? The real value of a Harvard education is the social network you establish. (Cruz, Kushner, and McEnany, prove it’s not the education) That’s removed from the cost/benefit equation, online.

    6
  18. Kathy says:

    @grumpy realist:

    So much for our welcoming international students!

    So much for “We’re not opposed to immigration, only to illegal immigration. legal immigration is just fine!”

    7
  19. JKB says:

    Well, first off, the social, athletic and competitive aspects of the undergraduate schools are going to be greatly curtailed probably into the Fall of 2021. Those who show up on campus, even online will be the ones that prioritize the scholarly aspects or those so close they can taste the magic parchment and their future. The college experience is going to like going to the Disney World during a power outage this year. Residential colleges have long been centers for disease outbreaks with the rampant unsafe exchange of bodily fluids. Now there’s a new threat from just heavy breathing.

    As for the visa issue, it’s possible it is a quiet blow against the universities using immigration to avoid dealing with increasing women and minorities in science. If we accept this interesting investigation by Eric Weinstein citing a 1984 NSF study.

  20. CSK says:

    @grumpy realist:
    Am I surprised that Trump had someone else take his SATs? Not in the least.

    1
  21. senyordave says:

    @grumpy realist: I would be shocked if he actually did take the SATs.

    2
  22. Lounsbury says:

    @Sleeping Dog: Oh yes. Very Ausländer raus. That creature is pure Blood and Soil.

    1
  23. JohnMcC says:

    @grumpy realist: The WaPo article on this business is headlined ‘Yet again, Trump is accused of doing something he claims Obama did’. And the sub-head is ‘By now, one has to wonder if the President was born in America’.

  24. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Kathy: Well, legal immigration from Norway (the only kind of legal immigration there is anyway) is just fine. No inconsistency at all. Nuh huh…

    1
  25. DrDaveT says:

    @Gromitt Gunn:

    Huge sectors of our economy are built on the sweat equity and brainpower of international students turned immigrant entrepreneurs.

    I follow the trade press and government news on AI and machine learning fairly closely, and there is near-panic everywhere at how much recent Trump policies are going to cut off the inflow of talent to US research. For a couple of decades now, our biggest competitive advantage has not been the quality of American researchers, but the ability of American universities and companies (and quality of life) to lure the best and brightest from around the world to come here, get a degree, and become American.

    That, apparently, does not Make America Great Again. Unless they’re Norwegian, I guess.

  26. Gustopher says:

    @JKB:

    Residential colleges have long been centers for … the rampant unsafe exchange of bodily fluids

    I think you’re just jealous. Let me guess, you went to trade school? Just high school?

    Also, there are lots of safer sex techniques and simple prophylaxis.

  27. mattbernius says:

    @Gustopher:
    I actually think JKB is completely right about college campuses being petri dishes. Jebus, dorms alone are pretty scary under these conditions.

    And I base that on having spent a lot of time throughout my life on said campuses both as a student and as an instructor (at various levels).

    For those interested, there’s someone whose been doing some great interactive fiction (pick a path adventures) about what the fall experience could be like (especially for someone with existing underlying health issues):

    https://caitkirby.com/downloads/Fall%202020.html

    https://caitkirby.com/downloads/October1st2020.html

    Beyond that, Steven and James have really said all that I can say about how terrible (and terribly misguided) this decision is.