Stavisky Slams ICE Rule Denying Foreign Students Online-Only Education

State Sen. Toby Stavisky

State Sen. Toby Stavisky (D-Central Queens) condemned the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) announcement today that foreign college students enrolled in schools that will be online-only in the fall must leave the country or transfer to a different school. 

Stavisky, chair of the Senate’s Higher Education Committee, said that the decision is a ploy to force college campuses to reopen in the fall that New York will not fall for. The announcement came after several universities around the country announced that they’d be online-only because of the pandemic.

“We all want to see our campuses alive and bustling with activity again –– and we will in due time. But until then, it is imperative that school administrations assess every situation individually, and make decisions that best represent the interests and safety of the students they serve,” she said.

According to ICE’s announcement, foreign students in the Student and Exchange Visitor Program, a program that grants visas to foreigners who wish to study in the U.S. but not immigrate, cannot remain in the country if their university switches to online-only classes in the fall. The students must leave the country to take the online classes or transfer to a school that is not online-only. If they switch to a school with a mix of online and in-person, the foreign student is not allowed to have a schedule of online-only classes. 

If the student doesn’t comply with the new rules, they will be deported from the country. 

“If not, they may face immigration consequences including, but not limited to, the initiation of removal proceedings,” according to the ICE release. 

The decision was made by a working group of representatives from multiple agencies, an ICE spokesperson said. It gives international students the most flexibility to continue studying with a U.S. based school while minimizing the risk of COVID-19 transmission from international students who only have online classes by not re-admitting them to the country. The spokesperson said that normally foreign students would only be allowed to enroll in one online class a term but the exemption for that rule has been continued through the fall semester allowing them to register for both online and in-person classes.

ICE did not respond to a request for comment on Stavinksy’s statement.

New York has the second-highest number of international students in the country, according to the latest Open Doors report by the Institute for International Education. 

New York University and Columbia University have the most international students out of all of the higher education institutes in the state with more than 19,000 and more than 15,000 students respectively. In all, the nearly 125,000 international students in New York spent more than $5 billion and supported more than 60,000 jobs in the 2018-2019 academic year according to the NAFSA International Student Economic Value Tool. 

The senator’s statement comes as universities in the state grapple with how to comply with the decision. 

“CUNY campuses have thousands of international students whose status is threatened by the new rule,” said CUNY Chancellor Félix V. Matos Rodríguez. “I have instructed my administration to explore and pursue measures that would help these students remain in the country and continue their education at CUNY.”

Stavisky said that foreign students are a vital part of university student bodies and that the decision puts an increased burden on them.

 “These new regulations put our students from abroad at an unfair, unwarranted disadvantage,” she said.

She also worries that the decision will reinforce xenophobia and racism in the country.

“Singling out our international students may stoke more unsubstantiated fears, furthering racial and cultural divides, and possibly putting American minorities in danger here at home,” she said.