On Monday, July 6, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced changes to their Student Exchange and Visitor Program (SEVP), which stipulate that any students with F-1 and M-1 visas attending schools operating entirely online cannot take a full online course load and remain in the United States. The rule announces that affected students must either depart the country or transfer to a school with an in-person program. Additionally, the State Department will not issue visas to incoming international students enrolled in schools that are fully online for the fall semester, and these students will not be permitted to enter the United States. As an increasing number of countries and the European Union implement restrictions on travel in response to COVID-19 and prohibit travel from the United States, this puts international students in an impossible position. We note that the U.S. consulates in many countries are currently closed, and consequently, incoming international students have no clear means to obtain their visas.
As members of the Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) Caucus of the Graduate Teaching Fellows Federation (GTFF) graduate employee labor union at the University of Oregon, we recognize that migrant workers are continually made more precarious. This latest change to SEVP, following the proclamation of suspension of entry for those holding a H1B or J visa on June 22 which was undergirded by xenophobic protectionism, is especially devastating. It is difficult to imagine the fear and pain that international students are feeling in light of these confusing changes that have no other point beyond satisfying racist and anti-immigrant desires. To carelessly endanger the immense amount of work and sacrifices that international students and workers have and continue to make while a pandemic rages is wrong, and we have a responsibility to fight for them.
International students and workers are an integral part of our university. In the past, University of Oregon has touted its dedication to the international community by highlighting the need to provide opportunities for all students. These extreme circumstances threaten nearly 10% of our undergraduates, and more than 10% of our graduate employees/students. The majority of these students left their lives, families and friends in their home countries to study at the University of Oregon, with the expectation that they would be supported in living stateside. Therefore, it is the university’s direct responsibility, as employer and educational institution, to continue guaranteeing the legal stability of its students.
The university has failed to uphold its values in the past. Today, this administration is faced with the opportunity to move past rhetoric and take action to protect and support migrant students and workers. The time has come for the university to go beyond gestures and use its institutional power and financial resources to fight for the rights of what is a fundamental part of its educational community.
We ask that the university respond in the following ways:
A website detailing the university’s response and updates with progress that has been made, with links to resources for individuals. The International Student and Scholar Services (ISSS) website update is a useful start, and regular updates are necessary that do not hinge upon individual students reaching out.
Maintain safe learning conditions
The University of Oregon’s response cannot be to opt for in-person classes, as this would endanger the lives not only of those teaching in the classroom but our community and loved ones as well. The possibility for our international students to continue their education in these institutions should not be at the expense of their own health and others. The SEVP cannot be leveraged to push for in-person classes. Instead, we call on the university to clarify what the SEVP requirements are and accommodate international students so that they can continue their work safely without attending classes in person. Importantly, the university should first and foremost fight for the right of migrant students to remain in the United States without being forced to expose themselves to a lethal virus.
We know that the University of Oregon is committed to maintaining a diverse and international community. Therefore, we ask that the political lobbyists who act on behalf of University of Oregon demand the overturn of the new policy preventing F-1 and M-1 students from maintaining legal status due to online learning. We also ask that they demand the reversal of ICE’s change to their SEVP.
In light of the continuously shifting federal policies and regulations regarding DACAmented, undocumented and international individuals, legal counsel must be provided to individuals to effectively navigate the legal proceedings. A fund must be created to pay for the legal fees incurred, including consultations with immigration attorneys.
Deferral for incoming students
We request that the University of Oregon allow incoming international students and workers to defer their spot for one year in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The stipend of graduate students, regardless of their status or where they are located, must be maintained. Payment for graduate and undergraduate student workers must be maintained, regardless if sanctions restrict their employment. Funds must be established to maintain compensation.
Maintaining health insurance
The SEVP changes are horrid not in the least because they directly affect the health of our international students and workers. Some international students and workers fear for their safety and lives as they face the possibility of returning to unsafe living conditions in their home countries. For this reason we emphasize the need for health coverage for international students and workers, and we call on the university to protect the health of international students and workers by covering the costs of either their GTFF or university health insurance.
Due to the requirement of a sponsoring institution for international students, the University of Oregon needs to assert that the ICE policy will not jeopardize the path to degree of the international students at all levels nor introduce any delays (undergraduate/graduate). Support for degree completion must acknowledge the distress migrant students and workers are already experiencing as a result of the ongoing changes in migratory regulations, providing not only mental health resources but developing plans for those whose research and studies might be delayed as a direct result of this context.
BIPOC Caucus – firstname.lastname@example.org
Graduate Teaching Fellows Federation, AFT Local 3544 at the University of Oregon
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