The Trump administration reversed its decision on initial regulations from U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) — stating that international college students whose classes move entirely online will be allowed to stay in the U.S. after all. However, the decision comes with a caveat: first-year international students must take a portion of their classes in person or they won’t be permitted to stay.
While returning students will be permitted to stay in the country — regardless if classes are online or not — newly-enrolled students “will not be able to enter the U.S. to enroll in a U.S. school as a nonimmigrant student for the fall term to pursue a full course of study that is 100% online.”
The guidance that will allow international students to remain in the country excludes those who are in “new or initial status” after March 9, according to a document released by ICE.
International students attending U.S. colleges that will be online-only due to COVID-19 concerns will not be allowed to stay in the country, according to new regulations ICE released Monday.
While the new regulations have left many foreign students scrambling to transfer schools or make other plans, Westminster College representatives said their students will not be impacted.
“[This fall] there will be a combination of in-person, online, and hybrid courses,” said Alison Vasquez, director of international student services & study abroad in an email to The Forum. “Fortunately, this is good news for international students and follows the new ICE rule.”
The school responded to the situation with a tweet on Wednesday that said, “Westminster’s commitment to diversity is incomplete without the voices and lived experiences of our international students.”
This response, according to one international student, felt lackluster.
“I definitely felt abandoned,” said Valeria Scopello, a Westminster senior from Italy.
Upon hearing of the new regulations on Monday, Scopello immediately reached out to her professors to determine what their plans for the upcoming semester were. She said she had expected a similar sense of immediacy from the school.
“It definitely felt like Westminster was kind of falling behind,” Scopello said, noting the school didn’t respond until two days after the ICE announcement. “I feel like they didn’t respond as an institution.”
Similarly, Scopello said she was frustrated with ASW’s lack of response until four days after the announcement, which was after the time of her interview with The Forum.
“[ASW is] that connection between students and the institution, and that’s just not there, so you just don’t feel valued, you know?” she said.
ASW President Obaid Barakzai and ASW Vice President Daud Mumin released a statement to international students Friday.
“Your ASW leaders and friends are here to support and stand in solidarity with you to go through these times,” they wrote. “You are an integral part of our Westminster community. You enrich the lives of your peers, friends, classmates, and lab partners. You bring a new and much-need perspective into the classroom discussions. Without you, Westminster is not the same.”
Their statement of support included that, “ASW just signed a national open letter demanding ICE to repeal their decision immediately.” The student government leaders encouraged students to reach out to ASW and International Student Services with any further concerns.
Regardless of the school’s response, Scopello said these new ICE regulations are threatening.
“It’s just like, ‘Well, what now?’” she said. “Like, you’re threatening my future, literally. It’s like they’re getting rid of my dreams. […] I’m here for the opportunities, you know?”
Because in-person classes this fall will pose an increased risk of exposure to COVID-19, Scopello said it’s unfair to leave international students to choose between continuing their education or getting sick.
“ICE has forced this choice, you know?” she said. “It’s either your future or your health.”
*Editor-in-chief Cami Mondeaux contributed to this report.