Statement on DHS Ruling on International Students

The AAUP issued the following statement today.

The Department of Homeland Security’s July 6 ruling regarding international students and the upcoming 2020–21 academic year is but the latest example of the Trump administration’s callous cruelty, especially toward immigrants and those it deems “other.” The American Association of University Professors thus joins many other higher education organizations and colleagues in the labor movement in calling on the administration to allow all international students to obtain or retain visas to continue their education at US institutions, regardless of whether they participate remotely, in person, or through a hybrid model and regardless of whether they are studying inside or outside the United States, during this unprecedented global health crisis.

The demand that international students must attend classes in person or leave the country imposes needless hardship on those students, placing them in a confusing and uncertain situation. It is estimated that nine out of ten such students remained in the United States when campuses moved to remote instruction in the spring. The administration now demands that these students must seek to transfer to another institution if the institution they have attended has not yet committed to offering its programs in person. Even if such students enroll in programs that meet in person, the prospect that these programs may have to move online mid-semester means students would face unexpected costs and potential dangers to their health should they be required to depart on short notice.

The ruling is also a body blow to the country’s higher education institutions, already reeling under the impact of the pandemic, reduced revenues, state budget cuts, and an uncertain future. This arbitrary and capricious policy is cynically designed to pressure these institutions into making premature and hasty decisions about plans for the fall, in effect threatening to deny a significant source of revenue if they do not comply with the administration’s ill-conceived rush to reopen in the face of a surging pandemic. At this critical time, when the faculties and administrations of our colleges and universities are working hard to find effective ways to combat the pandemic and reopen the economy, institutions of higher education need greater flexibility, not more restrictive directives, from government.

More than a million international students currently attend US colleges and universities. These students not only add to the vibrancy of our higher education institutions; they enrich our country’s culture. They also add an estimated $41 billion to the economy, making higher education in effect one of the largest of the US export industries that President Trump has claimed he wants to strengthen. Many international students remain in the country after completing degree programs and make important contributions to our scientific and technological progress, our businesses, and our society.

 Last but not least, we must call attention to the potential impact of this directive on the academic freedom of both these students and American scholars. The free exchange of ideas and knowledge across borders is a critical element of academic freedom. The AAUP has extensively documented and actively opposed government efforts, dating back to at least the early Cold War, to exclude foreign scholars on questionable grounds. If the ranks of international students are dramatically reduced—a likely consequence should this order stand and be enforced—American students and faculty will suffer dearly from their absence.

Congress should urge the Department of Homeland Security to withdraw this damaging directive. Should the department refuse, Congress must pass legislation to grant needed flexibility to colleges and universities in enrolling new and continuing international students and preparing for the coming academic year. The AAUP also welcomes the lawsuits filed by private universities and by public universities in California that seek to block this cruel and senseless measure.

Publication Date: 
Monday, July 13, 2020