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Colleges oppose federal policy change regarding international students

Connecticut College and the University of Connecticut are among the higher education institutions calling for a reversal of a federal announcement that international students pursuing their studies exclusively online this fall cannot remain in the United States.

Other colleges and universities in the area also said they were disappointed with the announcement this week from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and were standing in support of international students.

Many local colleges and universities voiced opposition to the guidance, even though they already were planning for a curriculum that included both in-person and online coursework for the fall. They said the guidance was causing fear and confusion for students during a pandemic.

Meanwhile, Connecticut Attorney General William Tong intends to sue and is coordinating with other attorneys general, spokeswoman Elizabeth Benton said.

ICE did not immediately respond to requests for comment Friday.

Conn College President Katherine Bergeron said the college “opposes both the letter and the spirit of the proposed regulation” and called on ICE to allow students to stay in the U.S., regardless of what mode they are using to pursue their coursework.

Conn College is planning a hybrid of in-person and remote teaching for the fall, so its international students may be less affected by the proposed regulation. But the college is “nonetheless acutely aware of the pain, confusion, and fear the new guidance has caused — at a time when we continue to deal with the harmful effects of a global pandemic,” she said.

Bergeron said international students bring unique linguistic, cultural and geographic perspectives, are prominent scholars and campus leaders and contribute to the New London community.

“The mission of Connecticut College is to educate students to put the liberal arts into action as citizens of a global society,” she said. “We cannot begin to fulfill that mission without the vibrant presence of our international students.”

In a letter to the UConn community, Carl Lejuez, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs, said the decision will complicate fall planning, and the university will have to be mindful of course availability so students can take at least one course in person.

UConn is studying the restrictions and developing strategies to allow international students to continue their studies and also is “seeking congressional and legal assistance to have this directive reversed,” he said.

He said the university has 2,055 international graduate and undergraduate students in the state, along with 1,558 additional students who are currently abroad. Most of the university’s 1,600 international graduate students also are teaching and researching assistants: “Without them, University teaching and research capacity will be restricted,” he wrote.

“We are frustrated by this decision and the way it targets international students, who have already endured so many challenges related to the pandemic,” Lejuez wrote. “This new ICE directive will cause severe disruption to the lives of our international students, a core part of the UConn family. Many of these students have stayed in Connecticut during the pandemic, have leases, spend considerable time away from their families and loved ones abroad, and at this moment, are simply unable to depart the United States given limited flights and travel restrictions."

“They made decisions to come to Connecticut for their education, decisions that lead to sacrificing time with loved ones in order for UConn to provide access to an exceptional education,” he continued. “It is our responsibility to ensure that they are treated fairly and their aspirations can be fulfilled.”

Under the proposed modifications to the Student and Exchange Visitor program for the fall, ICE said in a news release that “Nonimmigrant F-1 and M-1 students attending schools operating entirely online may not take a full online course load and remain in the United States.”

The United States will not issue visas to students in fully online schools or programs for the fall semester and will not allow students in these programs to come to the U.S. The international students in these programs would either have to “depart the country or take other measures, such as transferring to a school with in-person instruction to remain in lawful status,” the release states.

In a statement earlier this week, state Attorney General Tong said he already has heard from students in danger of being forced to leave the country. He pointed out that international students make up about 13% of UConn's student body.

“These students often become immigrants who allow our nation's economy to grow and thrive," Tong said. "That's particularly the case in Connecticut, where thousands of immigrants have come to study at our world-class universities and stayed to work in advanced manufacturing and other high skill jobs.”

Three Rivers Community College President Mary Ellen Jukoski said in a statement that the college believes "the policy is misguided, unnecessary, and harmful."

“Our international students may be small in number but they are no less important to our College and student body," she said. "While Three Rivers is not moving to exclusively online classes, we nonetheless are working closely with (Connecticut State Colleges & Universities) to ensure that our international students are protected and can remain in Connecticut while they pursue their education.”

Eastern Connecticut State University President Elsa Núñez also said the university welcomes and supports international students and is disappointed with the decision.

“While the majority of Eastern's fall classes are currently scheduled as on-ground or hybrid courses — and therefore not subject to this ruling — international students have the same aspirations as U.S. students, and have been especially hard hit by the challenges of COVID-19,” Núñez said. “We teach our students to be citizens of a global society that is at present dealing with the collective challenge of defeating the pandemic. This is no time to be separating people. There is no better place to embrace and practice inclusion while addressing the world’s problems than on U.S. college campuses.”

The president of Mitchell College, which is planning for a mix of in-person and remote learning this fall, issued a statement standing "in support of our international students, who, while currently small in number, are a valued part of our community."

“Our students, faculty and staff are our top priority during this pandemic, and we, like other colleges and universities across the country, are committed to delivering high quality academic and support programs while ensuring the health and safety of the campus community,” Tracy Espy said. “While we recognize the fluid nature of the COVID-19 situation, the safety, well-being and opportunity for each of our students to pursue their education plans are paramount. We will work to assist them any way we can.”

k.drelich@theday.com

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