International students at Wisconsin’s colleges and universities will have to leave the country if their school does not offer in-person classes, according to an announcement Monday from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
In response, a number of the state’s public and private schools condemned the move, which adds more pressure and confusion as the institutions decide how to operate in the fall amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
International students make up 6% of the student body in the University of Wisconsin System. Marquette University, the state’s largest private school, has more than 500 international students.
“In instituting this rule, ICE fails to provide flexibility institutions and students may need to adapt to changing conditions, as we did during the spring semester,” UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank said in a statement. “Since the start of the pandemic, international students have faced numerous difficulties and hardships, including travel restrictions, closed consulates, required and recommended quarantine periods, not to mention acts of xenophobia, hate and bias.”
For these students, who scattered across the globe after campuses shut down in the spring and were not eligible for federal relief money, the new rule adds more hurdles to jump as they navigate going back to school in the fall.
“We especially want to remind all of our international students that you are, have been and always will be welcome here,” Marquette administrators Terence Miller and Dr. William Welburn said in a statement. “Each of you make a unique contribution to our academic community through your diverse cultures and worldview enriching all of us.”
At Beloit College, with a student body that is 22% international students, the rule hurts what President Scott Bierman called a “core strength.”
“I condemn the recent ICE ruling that limits the flexibility of international students at precisely the time when flexibility is so important,” Bierman said in a statement. “The ruling – which requires that international college students living in the U.S. take at least one in-person class or leave the U.S. – limits important choices that ought to be available to both international students and the college.
“In the midst of a global pandemic, we need every available option to ensure individual and community health,” he added. “Period. The ICE ruling leaves us needlessly faced with decisions that compromise the health of our students and the quality of their education.”
While the vast majority of the state’s international students attend larger schools, the small ones aren’t exempt from the effects. Carroll University, with just 73 international students out of a student body of about 3,500 students, also said the international population on campus in Waukesha is necessary.
“We cannot stress enough how integral and vital our international students are to our campus community and we will do everything we can to ensure a successful upcoming academic year for this incredible group of people,” the school said in a statement.
All of the universities that have spoken out about the ruling expressed concern about the bureaucratic hoops the students will need to jump through, but many also rejected the announcement in plainer terms.
“We are aware that the directives of those agencies can change as we all combat this pandemic,” Edgewood College President Andrew Manion said in a statement. “But we will not falter in our commitment to our students – all of our students – when faced with racism and hatred. We at Edgewood College unequivocally reject the xenophobia and hatred reflected in this announcement, and we urge our representatives and all elected officials to do the same.”
For now, the rule only applies to the fall 2020 semester, according to the ICE announcement.