Many colleges are reeling after an announcement last Monday which says international students studying in the U.S. must take in-person classes this fall or face deportation.
Harvard and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, both of which plan to primarily offer courses online this fall, filed suit against the Trump administration Wednesday claiming that the removal of the exemption given in the spring would place unfair burdens on international students who already face numerous barriers due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Bowdoin College faces similar problems as it plans to hold almost all of its classes online this fall.
However, according to Joshua McIntosh, vice president for campus life and dean of students, these new guidelines will have minimal effect on Bates students. Unlike Harvard, MIT and Bowdoin, Bates is planning to implement a hybrid model of education, offering students the option of taking classes online or in person.
This means that international students who choose to study on campus will meet the requirements set by the U.S. Immigrant Customs and Enforcement agency.
In the case of a hybrid academic model, students with F-1 visas must take at least one class in person. McIntosh is confident that Bates will be able to meet this condition as most classes will contain some component of in-person learning.
Even if Bates dismisses students from campus mid-semester due to public health concern, McIntosh said that students will still be able to stay in the U.S. because the previous in-person instruction would satisfy the requirement.
Yet, this is only if students can make it to campus this fall. McIntosh explained that previously existing barriers, including travel restrictions and visa acquisition, remain the most significant concerns.
“It’s not as simple or straightforward as if you get to Bates we can meet these standards, because there’s a number of reasons why students may be unable to get to Bates,” he said.
Approximately 30 international students remain in Lewiston, however this is just a fifth of the international students who were expected to enroll this fall. The majority of international students returned to their home country after classes were suspended in March.
According to McIntosh, students may be unable to get a visa in time for the fall semester as many U.S. consulates remain closed. Other students may be unable to travel to the U.S. if they come from a country with a Level 4 travel advisory.
Devashi Trivedi, a junior Bates student from India, said that she likely won’t be able to return to Bates this fall. Even if she could find a flight from India to the U.S., she is concerned about the health risks associated with prolonged travel. Dealing with an unfamiliar healthcare system in the U.S. if she were to contract the virus would also be challenging, she said.
However, by choosing to take classes remotely, Trivedi will not be able to participate in neuroscience research next summer under the current ICE guidelines.
The directive from ICE contains no exemption for Optional Practical Training and Curricular Practical Training visas. McIntosh said this is a point of concern for Bates.
The CPT visa allows students currently enrolled in college courses to remain in the country over the summer for research or internships. The OPT visa is similar, granting recent graduates the ability to work in the U.S. for a year.
McIntosh said these visas are critical for international students to gain co-curricular and job experience.
Under the current policy, students must be on campus with an F-1 visa for two consecutive semesters to meet OPT/CPT visa requirements. This means that students unable to take classes on campus this fall for any reason will not qualify for these visas.
“Part of our educational model goes well beyond classes, it’s about how do we help students spend their summers doing research, doing internships, how do we help set them up for life after Bates,” McIntosh said. “So for a student to not have access to CPT or OPT is a very significant thing and is deeply problematic.”
Trivedi said that she was hoping to remain in the U.S. next summer to gain research experience, but will likely be unable to if she remains in India this fall.
“In neuroscience, research experience is very important, and I was hoping to use CPT to work with cognitive researchers around the U.S. that do research using brain imaging techniques, something that is not available to me at Bates or in India,” she said.
In a letter to the Bates community Wednesday afternoon, McIntosh wrote that Bates would file an amicus brief in support of Harvard and MIT.
The policy, he said, makes it difficult to provide international students with similar opportunities as domestic students.
“This undermines our ability to live up to equity and access in the ways that we commit ourselves to,” McIntosh said. “It was already complicated enough for our international students and this just made it far more difficult for them.”
Sen. Angus King wrote a letter to Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf on Wednesday urging him to reconsider the requirements for international students to remain in the U.S. this fall.
Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-1st District, similarly expressed her disapproval of the policy. She and her House colleagues are sending a joint letter to Wolf.
“With many universities transitioning to online learning, this policy will potentially require many international students to leave the country during the COVID-19 pandemic rather than continue their studies this fall,” the letter reads. “This will pose a threat to our nation’s leadership in higher education and will have significant human costs if not promptly rescinded.”