The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) recently released new rules that will force international students to leave the country if they are enrolled in online-only courses in the fall semester. This is a cruel and short-sighted rule that would have a devastating impact on the lives of these students, university faculty, university systems and our economy as a whole.
As professors at the University of Utah, we deplore the blackmail that such a rule represents to the university system. The new rule forces universities to offer face-to-face instruction which may be contrary to the health and well-being of their students, faculty and staff.
University faculty who are high-risk or who live with high-risk individuals will be required to choose between their own health and the future careers of these international students. This is an unfair moral dilemma forced upon university faculty and staff who wish to do the best by their students, but also do best by their own families.
This also hits close to home for both of us as former international students. We came to the U.S. for the amazing opportunity to study at an American university and to learn from world-class faculty, many of whom are immigrants themselves. In turn, we have built meaningful careers focused on improving the lives of people in the country we now call our own.
Our personal experience has shown that international students enrich university environments through new ideas and creative thought as much as they are enriched by it. As such, this new rule does not just represent a ban on international students, it represents a ban on all societal and technological progress which depends upon a diversity of thought and practice.
We also deplore this discriminatory rule because it punishes international students for factors beyond their control. It is university policy that decides which classes will be offered online, in-person, or a hybrid format, and which classes students must take to complete degree requirements. In reality, this new rule presents a Hobson’s choice for international students: find an education that puts your health at risk, or go without.
This new rule is not just bad for international students, it is also bad for the Utah and U.S. economy. Most international students are not taking away jobs from hard-working Americans, instead, they are here to buy a U.S. product. This means ICE’s new rules are going to hurt American businesses.
Utah has approximately 8,000 international students, who contributed over $219 million to our state’s economy and support more than 2,000 jobs in 2018 alone. Nationally, the same numbers amount to $41 billion and nearly 460,000 jobs. The presence of seven international students contributes to the creation and sustaining of three U.S. jobs. And many international students play a key role in research laboratories, helping the U.S. lead the world in groundbreaking discoveries.
Everything about this new rule offends common sense and decency. We encourage Utahns to call their congressperson and senators to tell them that Congress must act to overturn ICE’s new rule. Here is their contact information.
Do it for the documented economic benefits of international students. Do it because Utah is a place that welcomes people from all over the world. Do it because the livelihood of many international students literally depends on the education they may be denied. Do it because you are a kind person who cares about your fellow human beings and because the international students in Utah need your help.
Alessandro Rigolon is an assistant professor in the Department of City and Metropolitan Planning at the University of Utah.
Divya Chandrasekhar is an associate professor and the director of the Ph.D. program in the Department of City and Metropolitan Planning at the University of Utah.