By DONOVAN HARRELL
The Pitt community condemned a recent federal policy change that would require international students to take in-person classes or lose their visa status. The University’s Flex@Pitt model allows for in-person and online classes at lower risk levels but would move all classes online under a high-risk posture if COVID-19 cases are spiking.
The University described the announcement on July 6 as “misguided, unfair, harmful to higher education across the United States, and damaging to both regional and national economies.”
“We join our peers in the Association of American Universities in calling on the administration to reverse this decision and permit international students to continue their educations through whatever means their institutions determine to be safest,” the statement read.
Some universities have already mounted legal challenges to the new Immigration and Customs Enforcement rule. Harvard University and MIT sued the Trump administration in federal court on July 8 to block the new requirement.
An open letter to Chancellor Patrick Gallagher and Provost Ann Cudd with more than 600 signatures asks that all Pitt campuses “become sanctuary campuses with policies that protect students from the recent ICE decree.” This would include refusing ICE physical access to private University spaces without a judicial warrant.
In March, due to the COVID 19 pandemic, ICE relaxed a rule that prevented students with F-1 and M-1 visas from taking multiple online classes.
ICE walked that decision back this week, saying that international students may not stay in the U.S. if their courses are entirely online.
The University said in a statement that it is carefully considering its next steps.
“The University of Pittsburgh is assessing how this decision will affect our international students and will communicate with them directly about how they can best continue their Pitt education as we move forward with a flexible program that combines classroom instruction with online learning," the statement read.
At Faculty Assembly on July 7, Delo Blough, director of the Office of International Studies, said this new rule has created a bunch of headaches in her office as staff work to communicate with international students and figure out what the next steps will be.
For students who have F-1 visas who can’t return home because of border issues, it’s unclear what happens to them if Pitt’s operational posture requires classes to be fully online.
“That's partly why there's such an uproar with this guidance,” Blough said. “Because it literally makes no sense. It is saying that even if the University goes completely online in the middle of the semester like we did in the spring, they're saying, your students are going to have to go home. And if they don't go home, they're violating the F-1 visa that they're on and they could be deported.”
If Pitt chooses to not comply with these rules, the institution risks losing the ability to have international students altogether, Blough said. But this scenario is unlikely.
Her main concern, she said, was for the students who may choose to not comply.
“The concern is that later down the road, if the government figures out that they really were online during this semester, they can deny them services and approvals later in their immigration life,” Blough said.
International students can find more information about fall classes on the Office of International Services website.
Donovan Harrell is a writer for the University Times. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-383-9905.
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