The guidance released Monday by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) creates immense confusion and instability for thousands of international students at the University of Massachusetts, not to mention the million-plus international students across the country. Nothing could be more disruptive than reversing course on a policy ICE promulgated in the Spring and Summer to suspend its rules prohibiting online enrollment while the nation’s colleges and universities contend with an ongoing and unprecedented public health emergency.
No public good is served by these threats to deprive thousands of students at the University of Massachusetts from continuing to make valuable and necessary contributions to the economy of the Commonwealth and the prosperity of the nation. International students enrich each of our campuses by exposing our domestic students to global cultures and perspectives. Across the nation, international students generate an estimated $41 billion of economic impact and support more than 450,000 U.S. jobs. Beyond the human toll this guidance takes on our students, the impact on the economic interests of the Commonwealth and nation will be negative and potentially irreversible.
This decision comes at the worst possible time for these students and the university. UMass campuses, like their peers around the country, have developed comprehensive and flexible plans to serve our 75,000 students, including more than 7,000 international students. Our highest priority in designing our curriculum for the upcoming academic year has been to protect the health and safety of students, faculty, staff and the communities that surround our campuses. We will offer a combination of face-to-face, hybrid, and remote learning classes that can be adjusted depending on guidance provided by public health experts.
One-size-fits-all ICE requirements will cause real and lasting damage to our international students by forcing many of them to abruptly leave Massachusetts or suddenly transfer to another institution just two months prior to opening of the fall semester, thus interrupting their education. For campuses adopting a hybrid model, the ICE guidance requires that each program of study maintain at least one in-person class during the fall, putting pressure on faculty, staff, and residential life and dining services to maintain on-campus services throughout the semester. This is in direct contrast to agency guidance issued in March which focused on public health and safety for all in a time of great uncertainty.
Even worse, if a college or university faces a public-health imperative to move from face-to-face to fully remote learning mid-semester as we did in the Spring term of 2020, international students would be forced to immediately leave the U.S. If recent experience is any guide, many would be faced with having to find a way to return to countries that have closed their borders due to the pandemic, leaving students in an untenable situation. Indeed, that is precisely the situation right now for anyone in the U.S. who needs to travel anywhere in the entire European Union.
In short, the ICE guidance is cruel to valued members of our community while being counter-productive and destructive to one of the most important institutions we have: American higher education. It must be revoked immediately and the reasonable guidance offered last Spring, which is still the policy at present, should be reinstated.