N.H. colleges grapple with change in ICE rule that targets foreign students

  • Students walk through campus in between classes at New England College in Henniker on Friday, Jan. 27, 2017. The bridge connecting campus to downtown Henniker is seen in the background. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz

Monitor staff
Published: 7/12/2020 7:52:35 PM

While New Hampshire colleges and universities are gearing up for a continued COVID-19 pandemic with a mix of online and in-person classes this fall, a new rule from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement means international students can’t remain in the U.S. while attending school only online.

On Monday, ICE’s Student and Exchange Visitor Program announced a change in the rules for non-immigrant F-1 and M-1 students, saying they cannot continue to live in the U.S. if they are enrolled in a program that is happening fully online. International students enrolled in online programs must either transfer to an in-person program or leave the country, at risk of being deported, the ICE statement said. The change leaves many New Hampshire students uncertain of what their next steps will be.

“The recent directive from ICE has caused real confusion and uncertainty for our colleges’ administrators, staff, and students,” said Michele Perkins, president of New England College and chairperson of the New Hampshire College and University Council. “It is deeply concerning that our international students are confronting these challenges in the midst of a pandemic.”

University of New Hampshire president James Dean spoke out against the rule change Wednesday, in a statement where he described the policy as “incredibly unfair and harmful.”

UNH plans to use a “hybrid” model – a mixture of in-person and online classes – which, according to the ICE policy, means international students can stay as long as they are taking some courses in person. Still, Dean said, the rule limits the university’s flexibility in planning for certain scenarios, like if campus had to be shut down suddenly for health reasons.

“Blocking and possibly expelling international students in the middle of their studies if circumstances change serves no one’s interests and will set back the United States’ ability to attract the world’s brightest minds,” Dean said. “We support our international students and value the diversity they bring to our campuses.”

Southern New Hampshire University plans to offer only online instruction in the fall due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which means SNHU international students would have to leave the U.S. to continue their studies.

SNHU said in a statement Wednesday that officials are still working to understand the impacts the new rule will have.

“Our international students are an important part of the SNHU community. We are working to gather more information, determine the potential impact, and chart a path forward for our students,” the statement read.

Some institutions, including Harvard University, Northeastern University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and ICE over the rules, saying it puts students in danger from COVID on campus or while traveling. The rule change came out the same day that Harvard announced its intentions to hold all classes online in the fall.

Dartmouth College plans to file an amicus brief in support of the lawsuit.

“Any action inhibiting the free exchange of talent and ideas limits our ability to advance Dartmouth’s core academic mission,” the college said in a news release. “By restricting international students’ participation in any online courses our faculty choose to offer to protect the health and safety of our community members in the face of the continuing pandemic, the SEVP guidance strikes at the heart of that mission.”


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