What the new ICE regulations may mean for international Northwestern students


Daily file photo by Daniel Tian

The International Office, 630 Dartmouth Pl. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced a policy change that could impact student visa holders planning to take an online course load in the full.

Isabelle Sarraf, Copy Chief

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced Monday that international students in the United States whose schools switch to online classes for the fall will have to leave the country or risk violating their visa status.

The Student and Exchange Visitor Program, which sets the rules for student visas and is run by ICE, will modify its policies to temporary exemptions for nonimmigrant students taking online classes due to the pandemic. One of these exemptions states that nonimmigrant F-1 and M-1 students attending schools operating entirely online cannot take a full online course load and remain in the United States. This means students would have to depart the country or transfer to a school with in-person instruction to remain in lawful status.

Students unable to do so could face “immigration consequences including, but not limited to, the initiation of removal proceedings,” according to the SEVP. If international students are formally deported from the U.S., they will be barred from returning to the country for at least five years, which could disrupt their ability to complete their degree.

How this policy could impact NU students

Northwestern plans to welcome students back to campus in the fall for a modified quarter, with a hybrid of in-person and remote instruction, stating that a “significant portion” of fall classes will likely be offered remotely. However, students have yet to register for fall classes and are currently unaware of which classes will be offered in-person or online.

SEVP states that nonimmigrant F-1 students attending schools adopting a hybrid model like NU will be allowed to take more than one class online. These schools, however, must certify that a student is not taking an entirely online course load during the fall and that the student is taking “the minimum number of online classes required to make normal progress for their degree program.”

Schools using a hybrid option must outline their plans to SEVP by August 1.

If international students on visas find that they are faced with a full load of online instruction, ICE suggested that they either leave the country or take alternative steps to maintain their status in the states as nonimmigrants, such as taking a reduced course load or “appropriate medical leave.”

Northwestern’s response to ICE guidelines

In a Tuesday afternoon email to the NU community, Interim Provost Kathleen Hagerty said the University is studying the ICE announcement closely to determine how the modifications to the SEVP might impact NU’s international students. She wrote that the University plans to continue ramping up research and to offer both in-person and remote classes in the fall so that international students will remain eligible to study on campus.

Hagerty wrote in the email that the University will be taking steps to help ensure that international students are in compliance with the new policy.

“We are grateful for all that our international students bring to our community and Northwestern remains committed to supporting them in every way possible,” Hagerty wrote. “A Wildcat is a Wildcat, no matter their nationality.”

In an email obtained by The Daily, the Office of International Students and Scholars said it is currently determining how the new regulations will affect Fall Quarter for NU’s international students.

“We intend to publish a document with the next steps and FAQs by the end of this week,” the email read. “We truly appreciate your patience, and we will do our absolute most to interpret the regulations in a way that supports your continued academic goals.”

A survey conducted by the Institute of International Education found that 92 percent of current international students remained in the U.S. during the spring. The SEVP had allowed international students to take their spring and summer courses online while remaining in the U.S. in response to the pandemic.

22 percent of NU’s full-time students are international, which means nearly one-fourth of the entire student body — and about one-third of the graduate student population — may be impacted by the temporary modifications. 92 percent of international students at NU have F-1 visas, the ones directly impacted by ICE’s new regulations.

Professors and departments advocate for students

Many professors and departments quickly defended their international students.

Political science Prof. William Hurst tweeted that he would offer an in-person independent study to any graduate student in his department that holds an F-1 visa and needs such a class to legally remain in the country. He said he hopes the University develops a clear outline of actions to be taken in support of international students affected by the regulations and remains hopeful that there will be a more “sustainable, formal and universal” way of addressing the situation.

“The impact on students who hold certain U.S. visas could be really severe, and there isn’t an obvious way to address this,” Hurst told The Daily. “What I said I would do in hosting an in-person independent study for any graduate who needs that to keep his or her visa is the least one can do.”

Anthropology and Asian American studies Prof. Shalini Shankar said this is not the first time that the University has faced a dilemma in cooperating with ICE and its directives. For example, in the wake of President Donald Trump’s election in 2016, University wrote in a statement it was “strongly committed” to being a welcoming and inclusive place in the wake of a petition that urged the University to become a “sanctuary” for undocumented members of the community.

This is a moment, Shankar said, in which the University can protect its students within whatever legal capacity it is able to avoid ICE raids and deportations. She said she is teaching an undergraduate and a graduate seminar in the fall, and offered to her department chair to teach them in person if that would be of any help to international students, even though she had initially said she would teach them remotely.

“There’s a real push among faculty to use whatever powers we have to let international students stay,” Shankar said. “The most disgusting part of this directive is that they’re needlessly asking people to endanger their own lives just to combat a really ignorant policy.”

Students ask the University to take action

Weinberg senior Mari Brady launched a petition Monday evening asking the University to schedule some type of in-person classes in the fall so that international students are able to remain in the country. As of Tuesday evening, the petition has garnered over 1300 signatures.

NU International Students Association has also announced plans to meet with officials from the University this week to “bring (students’) thoughts to the table.”

Northwestern University Graduate Workers called the policy “unconscionable and draconian” in a statement Monday evening. The announcement comes at a moment when many international borders are closed and international travel is “irregular and unreliable,” the statement read.

Due to the emergency nature of the issue, NUGW is asking the University to release a detailed action plan to protect students from possible deportation and the disruption of their courses by July 21, according to the statement.

“Graduate workers who have found themselves in an already precarious position during this pandemic now face the choice of risking their lives in order to be able to stay in the country or facing deportation,” the statement read.

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Twitter: @isabellesarraf

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