Daniel Zhao

New guidelines released early this week from the Department of Homeland Security suggest that international students who do not take in-person classes this fall could face deportation.

For many of Yale’s international students, who comprise 20 percent of the student body, these rules pose a threat to their plans to study in the United States. According to a July 6 release by the DHS, international students studying in the United States may not take all of their classes online — and if they attempt to do so, they will not be issued visas and will be barred from the country. The release also says that students who are currently enrolled in all-online programs must leave the country or transfer to schools with partial or complete in-person course offerings. If students don’t follow these guidelines, they risk deportation. 

For João Cardoso ’21, who comes from Portugal, the international community plays a large role in his life at Yale — most of his friends are international students, he told the News in an interview, and most of the events he attends are “international-related.” The DHS announcement, he said, caught him off guard. If the intention behind the policy was to curb the spread of the virus, Cardoso said, flying international students back to their home countries would be counterproductive. 

“I think it’s absolutely ridiculous,” Cardoso said. “It’s an abysmal policy that makes absolutely no sense. I think it’s fueled by racism, by xenophobia, rather than any sort of logical reasoning.”

Acting DHS deputy secretary Kenneth Cuccinelli II told CNN last week that the new order actually provides more flexibility to international students, who can usually only take one online course per standard visa requirements.

“If they’re not going to be a student or they’re going to be 100 percent online, then they don’t have a basis to be here,” Cuccinnelli said. “They should go home, and then they can return when the school opens.”

Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology sued the DHS, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and similar authorities on Wednesday in an effort to halt the agency’s new restrictions. Yale is joining other universities in filing an amicus brief in favor of the suit.

University President Peter Salovey announced on Tuesday that while it remains unclear exactly how the new policy will apply to every individual, the University is doing “all we can” to ensure that international students’ education can continue.

Salovey also added his own take on the new policy in a letter to the community.

“I am deeply disappointed and troubled that DHS has declined to extend to the coming fall semester the exceptions it provided for this spring and summer, especially when we are in the middle of a public health crisis,” Salovey wrote. “The potential disruption in the education of our international students will undercut the strength of American higher education, which draws brilliant individuals from around the world to our country. Our nation’s history of openness has long been essential to U.S. leadership and a thriving economy.”

Vice President for Global Strategy Pericles Lewis and Executive Director of OISS Ann Kuhlman emailed students on July 8, echoing Salovey’s concerns about the new DHS policy and promising to work with Yale’s hybrid fall program to meet necessary visa requirements. 

They added that some restrictions may be placed on courses for international students, to ensure that each student can take an in-person class.

“Although the most recent guidance from the Department of Homeland Security came as a surprise, we are aiming to ensure that Yale’s hybrid plan for the fall meets the new requirements,” the administrators wrote. “We are working out some of the details of how this will be achieved and will provide further information on a school-by-school basis.”

University Provost Scott Strobel similarly told the News in a July 7 email that the University will do “everything possible” to meet the on-campus requirements announced by DHS. According to Strobel, this can be achieved through the “hybrid teaching model” that Salovey and Strobel announced last week when administrators released Yale’s plans for the fall — which include mostly online classes and a limited number of students allowed in University housing.

Yale’s reopening guidelines mean a hybrid course load would be possible for first years, juniors and seniors in the fall. According to the guidelines, sophomores may return to campus for the spring semester.

But since many international students have returned to their home countries amid the worsening pandemic, coming back to New Haven could prove difficult: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention currently bars entry in the United States to foreign arrivals from countries like China and Iran and most of Europe.

Public and private universities across the country have now begun considering clever solutions that fit the new government guidelines. Students at the University of California, Berkeley, had floated making a low-credit, in-person class with “excused absences.” Activists are also circulating a list of in-person courses offered in the fall at several colleges across the United States.

And at Columbia University, President Lee Bollinger told community members Tuesday that his team is expanding a program to provide in-person education to students across the globe..

In a message to Yale Law School community members, Dean Heather Gerken wrote that most faculty members have agreed to offer an “in-person, one-on-one tutorial” to international students to avoid deportation.

“One of my colleagues told me that he would teach outside in the snow if he needed to,” she wrote.

The new guidelines are the latest in a set of challenges that the government has leveled against international students in recent weeks. Last month, President Donald Trump issued an executive proclamation that would suspend certain new visas until 2021 — including the H-1B visa, a popular choice for international postdoctoral researchers.

That proclamation could impact the University’s ability to court these researchers. According to data from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, Yale has received approval for more than 50 of these visas since the beginning of the year — the most of any institution in Connecticut. Last year’s total was roughly 200.

Other international students told the News their concerns about next semester. The new DHS policy, combined with other legal hurdles, has brought into question many of their previous plans.

In a message to the News, one student who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation wrote that — like some other international students — they planned on studying in the United States in order to be removed from the unstable conditions of their home country. Many international students, the student wrote, expected their visas to last for the entire period of their undergraduate enrollment, and leaving the U.S. for an extended length of time or taking a gap year could place those visas in jeopardy.

The student’s home country is in “a politically tense situation” that may worsen in the coming months, they said, and they fall into one of the groups that is more vulnerable to COVID-19. Should they contract the virus, the student wrote, it would be better for them to receive treatment within the United States.

The most frustrating part of the DHS policy, the student said, is that it “isn’t even in the U.S.’ best interest.” International students pay taxes and at some public institutions, they pay higher tuition fees, the student wrote.

“Being in the US right now, we aren’t hurting anyone,” the student wrote. “I’ve seen a lot of comments about how we should go home and that if our purpose is to study and classes are online and we want to stay we must have ulterior motives. But what exactly would those be? My ‘ulterior’ motive is not flying through the airports and putting myself at risk!”

The student added that in the spring, many students were able to remain on their campuses due to poor conditions at home or lack of technology. If those issues can be understood, the student wrote, then the issues that many international students face — such as political instability — should be considered with the same care.

Tereza Podhajská ’21 told the News that the DHS policy is “vague” when it comes to plans like Yale’s for a hybrid model of schooling. She added that over the summer, she participated in Curricular Practice Training, which allows international students to take unpaid internships or work in the United States. However, Podhajská said, CPT legally binds her to enroll in the fall semester, leaving her “completely at the mercy” of ICE and associated authorities. 

She added that the current understanding of the DHS policy is that international students must be on campus to retain their visas — but if the public health situation worsens, international students might have to leave campus “at a moment’s notice,” as they did in the spring. 

“Under the policy, we just can’t win — we’re either forced to be physically present in the States at a moment’s notice, or leave at a moment’s notice,” Podhajská wrote to the News. “And yet, the current travel bans remain in place. It’s absurd — either way, we potentially get exposed to the coronavirus. Domestic students at Yale get to choose if they want to take classes remotely or if they can risk travel to campus. Under this policy, we can’t choose.”

Matt Kristoffersen | matthew.kristoffersen@yale.edu

Valerie Pavilonis | valerie.pavilonis@yale.edu