In a victory for CWA members and all workers, the harmful decision by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to revoke visas of degree-seeking international students if their institutions move to online instruction during COVID-19 was rescinded in court last week.
The ICE rule change, released July 6, would have prohibited foreign students from entering or remaining in the country to take fully online course loads. A number of colleges and universities had already announced plans to offer online-only classes because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The Trump administration agreed to rescind the directive on July 14.
The lawsuit that got the decision overturned was filed by Harvard and MIT and supported in an amicus brief filed by Communications Workers of America (CWA), the American Federation of Teacher (AFT), Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and the United Autoworkers (UAW) representing graduate workers on F-1 visas, who provide essential academic, instruction and research services to universities as they pursue their education within the United States, as well as other university faculty and staff.
Serving no other purpose than to forward President Donald Trump’s radical isolationist agenda, the move created critical uncertainty for more than one million students who are living, working, and studying in the U.S., including many CWA members, and would have blown another hole into higher education budgets already hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.
International students in the U.S. contributed nearly $41 billion to the national economy in the 2018-2019 academic year, according to NAFSA: Association of International Educators. By other accounts, the number is even higher.
“Playing political games with international students’ visa statuses in a cynical attempt to force campuses to reopen in person in the fall, despite clear evidence that indoor activity and proximity is a leading cause of COVID-19 spread, is both dangerous and xenophobic – par for the Trump course,” said CWA Public, Healthcare, and Education Workers Vice President Margaret Cook.
Following the decision rescind the order, students will be able to follow guidance issued earlier this spring that allows them to retain their visas, regardless of whether their campuses offer their program online or not.