At Western, the education of our students is core to all that we do. Not only do we care very much about our students’ success and dignity as they pursue their dreams, we commit ourselves to fostering and furthering that success and opening paths to goals our students might not have envisioned previously. This doesn’t just apply to students from our state or our country. Our international students are a vital part of our student body, and they have the right to pursue their degrees without having their lives and education unnecessarily disrupted beyond the chaos the pandemic has already brought about.
On Monday, July 6, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced plans to take away the U.S. visas of international college students if their coursework for the fall were to be delivered entirely online. This reverses a decision made earlier this spring to allow international students to retain their visa status while taking only online courses, which was often the only option as colleges across the country moved to online instruction in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. To put it succinctly, the new order requires international students to take at least some of their courses this fall in person, or be stripped of their visas and sent home.
This targeted order is both blatantly xenophobic and oblivious to the reality of the public health situation in this country. At a time of excruciating uncertainty, this policy adds yet another layer of anxiety for one specific group of students. COVID infections continue to surge around the country, so it is essential that institutions and students have as much flexibility as possible in planning for their education this fall, including the possibility of exclusively online coursework. Forcing international students to choose between leaving the country and taking in person courses, regardless of their preferences or whether they are at higher risk for infection is cruel and decidedly unfair. While we remain optimistic that we will be able to offer 25-30% of our courses for fall in person, if the virus spikes in Washington and we have to return to online-only instruction, international students will face a uniquely unjust burden.
Western is working with our State’s congressional delegation and higher education associations such as the President’s Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration to try to overturn this misguided rule, and we have joined an amicus brief in support of Harvard and MIT’s lawsuit to block the directive. However, we also recognize the need to prepare for the possibility that it will be upheld. To that end, several offices at Western as well as our international pathway partner Study Group, are working on plans to accommodate our international students, communicating with them and their families about options, including in person coursework to meet the requirements of the rule.
We will continue to analyze the effects of this policy and the ways Western can help our international students continue their education without interruption. In the meantime, FAQs for international students are available on Western’s coronavirus webpage. We will continue to communicate and provide updates directly to Western’s international students as they are available.
Western stands with our international students, faculty, and staff, and we will do everything we can to support them in the face of misguided and cruel immigration-related actions like these.
Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs