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Colleges, universities react to directive that may force international students to leave U.S.

Ryan Fish/KEYT

SANTA BARBARA COUNTY, Calif. - Colleges and universities in Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo County are reacting to the news that international students may be forced to leave the United States if their coursework shifts to online-only due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The new directive was announced Monday by U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE).

This comes as these schools attempt to navigate plans for modified learning in the fall, in order to prevent spread of the virus among students and staff.

Most local colleges and universities are planning for mostly online classes this fall, with minimal in-person classes with strict health modifications.

Cal Poly responded to the new ICE guidelines with the following message:

"[O]ur International Center has been working diligently to keep Cal Poly students — both international students and students who have been planning to study abroad — up to date on evolving policies and procedures related to COVID-19 and how they are impacting our campus. This has involved regular communications with impacted students and with faculty and staff who work with them, to ensure that students’ academic and extracurricular needs are being met and that they are keeping their health and safety top of mind in charting their academic course.

Cal Poly’s more than 300 international students are valued members of our university community.

Specific to the recently released ICE guidelines, the International Center is working closely with the CSU to understand the new guidance and determine how best to serve our impacted international students.

The center will reach out to international students with information about the guidelines and a survey that aims to determine how many students intend to be in the U.S. and take at least one in-person class in the Fall 2020 quarter. Students who intend to be in the U.S. will be urged to work with their academic advising centers to identify in-person courses in which to enroll.

The center also is providing students with information about the processes for their visas (both for those intend to be in the U.S. in the fall and those who don’t) and will offer virtual meetings for students to discuss these impacts and answer questions."

UC Santa Barbara had nearly 4,000 international students among graduate students and undergraduates during the 2019-20 school year.

One international graduate student currently living near campus spoke anonymously with NewsChannel 3, saying that the school has been in contact with her and is planning an in-person seminar for graduate students that would allow them to follow the ICE guidelines and remain in the U.S.

She said the fate of UCSB international undergrads remains more unclear.

The school says because the issue is relevant across the UC system, it is responding to the new guidelines with UC President Janet Napolitano's statement this week:

"The University of California recognizes that our country benefits when the world's brightest students and academics learn, teach and research on our shores. International students provide unique contributions that enrich our campuses and their perspectives ensure that we continue to be a leading academic force around the world. Making it more difficult for international students to study here undermines decades of collaboration between the United States and our international partners, particularly in fields that contribute to America's economic vitality.

ICE's announcement is perplexing, given that some degree of remote instruction is necessary for colleges and universities to protect the safety and well-being of their communities and the public at large, while still allowing students to continue their studies. Challenges and uncertainties related to COVID-19 are already weighing heavily on students; now is the worst time to burden them further with anxiety.

UC will assess fully how these changes will affect our campuses and our international students. However, this much is abundantly clear: The Trump administration's latest actions impacting international students jeopardizes our nation's future as a worldwide leader in research and innovation."

Santa Barbara City College reacted to the news Wednesday with the following message:

"The recent ruling placing additional restrictions on international students is unfortunate. We know that it is causing concern and confusion for our international students - many of whom have continued making progress on their academic goals despite the COVID-19 health emergency. Our staff is committed to supporting our international students and doing everything we can to ensure they can continue their academic studies and remain in compliance with ICE requirements. We know that international students are a benefit to our campus community. Their experiences and contributions in the classroom are valued."

Allan Hancock College--which has campuses in Santa Maria and Lompoc--admits roughly 13-18 international students each year through the F-1 visa program. President and Superintendent Kevin Walthers released the followed statement:

“We are disappointed by yet another divisive rule coming from the Federal government. Staff at Allan Hancock College are working to ensure that each of our international students has access to classes that meet the regulations so they can continue their progress toward a degree."

The school also released additional information regarding its next steps: "College leadership is meeting this week to discuss the full impact of the regulation and has requested additional information from a federal Student Exchange Visitor Program (SEVIS) representative. AHC will work one-on-one with our international students to keep them informed as the situation develops and support them in any way possible."

Cuesta College near San Luis Obispo also released a statement reacting to the new directive:

Our international students are an integral part of the Cuesta College campus community. While the recent ICE guidelines have caused uncertainty, we are working diligently with our International Programs Office to get in touch directly with our international students and determine the best course of action to provide support and assistance so they may continue their education. 

Cuesta College announced a hybrid model of classes for the Fall 2020 semester, offering lecture classes online and providing in-person instruction on campus for difficult-to-convert labs, activities, and performance courses with strict hygiene and safety protocols. Athletics will be determined after the CCCAA meets on July 17 to discuss the 2020-21 academic year. International students taking one or more face-to-face courses will necessarily be local, including our student-athletes.

There are currently 30 admitted international students for Fall 2020 and 8 applications in progress. Since Fall 2017, there have been 78 students who have participated in our International Program.

In a statement, Westmont College in Montecito says its international students will be able to remain in the U.S.:

Westmont's international students will not be required to return to their home countries because our fall schedule plans for in-person
classes and hybrid cohorts. The college is the right size to respond to crisis situations and this is where our students benefit.

Westmont can pivot and shift its academic learning environment and schedules as needed or required, so to practice social distancing protocols and other safety measures that ensure the wellbeing of our community on campus. We assured our international students, in an all-community conference call on July 7 with the president and senior leadership, that they will be able to remain living on campus and attend fall classes.

Article Topic Follows: Education

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Ryan Fish

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