Letter to the Editor | International students should not have to choose between their health and their education

The new ICE order puts both administrators and international students in a precarious position, and will force public universities to offer face-to-face instruction against their better judgement.


Thomas A. Stewart

Over 100 flags are on display on the Iowa Memorial Union Pedestrian Bridge to recognize the international students on campus.

On Monday, the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) announced new guidelines that would prohibit international students from taking their college courses exclusively online during the COVID-19 pandemic. Failure to follow this guidance would mean students face immediate deportation from the U.S.

These guidelines put administrators and international students in a precarious position. They will force public universities to offer face-to-face instruction against their better judgment, given their dependence on tuition dollars and declining state appropriations. Simultaneously, colleges have announced plans to bring students back to campus, with some intending to go fully online late-November. Over 2,600 students at the University of Iowa would be subject to deportation.

As higher education scholars, we believe this guidance conflicts with the interests of international and domestic students. It must be rescinded immediately. We are heartened by the lawsuit being led by other universities, and greater public response is needed.

Fundamentally, this policy is cruel, using international students as pawns to force colleges to hold in-person instruction—when multiple examples show this may be dangerous. Further, it forces international students with online-only options to decide between leaving the country or transferring. Both choices disrupt learning, relationships, and living situations, all while students manage anxieties about staying healthy. Alongside pre-existing travel bans and closed borders, these measures intensify student concerns about exiting the country and returning to the U.S. post-pandemic.

Higher education is at its best when we bring together different communities and diverse perspectives. Students learn from one another in relationships that strengthen our capacities for perspective-taking and cross-cultural exchange.

The current guidelines will damage our relationships, schools, and nation. They undermine the promises of education. Most importantly, they are callous, inhumane, and xenophobic. International students should not be used as leverage to enforce a policy agenda that undermines public health.

—Alex C. Lange, Lindsay Jarratt, Nicholas Stroup, Molly Hall-Martin, and Gordon Louie, Ph.D. candidates and students in the Department of Educational Policy and Leadership Studies at the University of Iowa.

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