LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) — Universities across the Southland Tuesday said they were reviewing a directive from federal immigration authorities that could force thousands of international students out of the country if schools offer online-only courses due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
On Monday, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced that international students would not be allowed to remain in the country if the classes they were taking were solely online.
"The U.S. Department of State will not issue visas to students enrolled in schools and/or programs that are fully online for the fall semester nor will U.S. Customs and Border Protection permit these students to enter the United States," ICE said in a statement.
Many universities, including the University of Southern California and the California State University system, previously announced they would be offering instruction primarily online due to the pandemic.
"When I first got the news, we were panicking," Preedham Ravula, an international student at USC, said. "I have some classes that require labs and interacting with the professors. I definitely don't want to take those classes online."
CSU Tuesday said in a statement that its international students added to the "vibrant diversity of CSU's 23 campuses." The statement went on to say:
"The new policy guidance from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement could immediately lead to slowing or even worse, halting of more than 11,300 students' paths to achieving their higher education goals and potential contributions to our communities and economy. We are currently reviewing the new guidance to determine how to reduce impacts to students and will provide information to campuses and students in the near future. The Chancellor's Office is currently working with individual campuses to re-review online and in-person offerings to determine if they meet the new ICE directives."
USC officials also said they were reviewing the ICE directive in a statement that went on to say:
"We understand that ICE's new policy is creating a great deal of uncertainty and stress for many in our community. Our international students are an important part of our USC family and we are working diligently to figure out how to support them. We'll send out information as soon as we can on how USC will address this situation and best support our students."
During the 2019-20 academic year, more than 12,000 international students were enrolled at USC — more than half of them from China — according to the university's website. International enrollment was expected to be similar in the fall.
"Due to the uncertainty surrounding visas, travel restrictions and flight availability, USC is working to accommodate those international students who will not be able to attend classes on campus this fall by providing the option for many to take their courses online and in their respective time zone," Anthony Bailey, USC vice president for strategic and global initiatives, said in a statement.
And while the school has yet to release details about how it would keep international students on campus, the Daily Trojan reported that some of the schools on campus have reached out and were working with professors and students to configure schedules that allow international students to stay.
"I think they should definitely make the classes hybrid," Ravula said.
Also on Tuesday, University of California President Janet Napolitano called the ICE announcement "perplexing" at a time when universities have been forced to move to online instruction. She said the university system was assessing how the changes might impact its international students.
"International students provide unique contributions that enrich our campuses and their perspectives ensure that we continue to be a leading academic force around the world," Napolitano said. "Making it more difficult for international students to study here undermines decades of collaboration between the United States and our international partners, particularly in fields that contribute to America's economic vitality."
Across the UC system, more than 40,000 international students are enrolled in undergraduate and graduate programs.
Officials at Loyola Marymount University in Westchester also issued a statement in support of its international students, calling them "essential members of our LMU family and integral to our culture, our economy and our society."
The statement went on to say:
"We are working around the clock to support them and safeguard their health, safety and wellbeing. LMU is examining the new U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement policy and will continue to pursue all available avenues to address their needs and advance their educational ambitions."
(© Copyright 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. City News Service contributed to this report.)
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