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Case Opposes Administration Plan to Kick International Students Out of Country

He says intent to rescind international student visas if their schools only offer on-line courses due to COVID-19 will negatively affect public health and local economies

Washington, July 8, 2020

(Honolulu, HI) – U.S. Congressman Ed Case (HI-01) today joined several other Members of Congress on a letter to be sent to the Trump Administration urging that it abandon proposed changes to the Student and Exchange Visitor Program that would require international students to return to their home countries if their U.S. universities and colleges are only offering online courses in the Fall 2020 semester as a result of COVID-19.

“Unfortunately, this proposal arises from the same seriously misguided goal of forcing schools to reopen nationally regardless of local public health conditions,” said Case.

“But it will actually harm public health by offering colleges and universities dependent on international student income no choice but to physically open or risk closing altogether.

“Hawai’i is one of the locations that will be especially impacted not just by the public health consequences but by the loss of a significant portion of our economy,” continued Case. “Both our public and private institutions of higher learning have developed significant capability and reputation in educating international students. These students contribute not only to the success of those institutions but, because the students attend personally, to our local economy.

“The latest estimates by the National Association for Foreign Student Affairs are that there are more than four thousand international students taking classes at colleges, universities and English-language programs in Hawai‘i, with an estimated contribution of some $121 million annually to the State of Hawai‘i, $93 million alone in urban Honolulu,” said Case.

“Nationally, international students contribute nearly $41 billion to our economy and support more than 458,000 jobs. International education is the fifth-largest U.S. service sector export.

“There is no serious public health reason to categorically exclude all international students, and any real public health concern can be fully addressed through specific public health requirements such as testing.

“Further, when these students return home to their countries, they serve as ambassadors not only for our country but in our case for Hawai’i. Sending them home under such flimsy reasons would send the message that America is not interested in engaging with these countries and is willing to expel individuals not for a public health reason but because of xenophobia.”

Case earlier served for a semester as Adjunct Professor at Hawai’i Pacific University, a major educator of international students and generator of quality jobs for local residents. “I saw firsthand the contribution of international students not only to our economy but to the enhancement of our position as the center of the Pacific,” said Case.

“On a national level, this proposed policy also sends the wrong message at a time when new international student enrollment in the United States has been on the decline for three consecutive years of this Administration, especially as other countries like Canada, China, and Australia are actively competing to attract more international students to their universities. We are losing that race, making our students and our economy less competitive in a global market and ceding an important space where American values and ideas can be freely exchanged and spread.”  

A constituent who wrote to Case underscored that assessment noted:

“As you know, cases in Hawaii are spiking; it will only get worse in the fall, particularly if our schools are forced to mandate face-to-face classes. Those universities that refuse to buckle to this mandate will face another problem: international students, to be blunt, are a major money maker for American schools, particularly public universities. They represent a major portion of our budget, which is already under strain.”

Another constituent shared this note with Case:

“At a time when COVID cases continue to rise across the U.S., many students who are possibly at risk of deportation if they cannot comply, may not be able to travel to their country of origin given travel restrictions put in place by many countries for travelers from the U.S., so where does this leave them? The suggestion that students just “transfer to another school that can offer in-person teaching” just a few weeks before Fall semesters are due to begin, is not only a logistical and financial nightmare for current students, but it may put their lives in danger, and risks further spreading of COVID cases.”

Case and his fellow Members of Congress are addressing their letter to Acting Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security Chad Wolf, who has jurisdiction over the student visa program. The letter cites the critical role international students play in this country “by supporting cutting-edge research, enriching campus life, and helping the United States maintain its leadership role in higher education.”

The letter goes on to state that “International students both enrich the higher education experience for all students and are a key part of the higher education ecosystem. The modifications to the Student and Exchange Visitor Program are needlessly punitive and fundamentally threaten a cornerstone of our nation’s higher education system. With this mind, we urge you to rescind these changes to the Student and Exchange Visitor Program.”   The text of the pending letter is as follows:

The Honorable Chad Wolf
Acting Secretary
Department of Homeland Security
245 Murray Lane, SW
Washington, DC 20528

 Dear Acting Secretary Wolf:

            We are writing to express our concern regarding the recent modifications to the Student and Exchange Visitor Program that will end temporary exemptions for nonimmigrant students on F-1 and M-1 visas taking classes online for the fall 2020 semester. With many universities transitioning to online learning, this policy will potentially require many international students to leave the country during the COVID-19 pandemic rather than continue their studies this fall. This will pose a threat to our nation’s leadership in higher education and will have significant human costs if not promptly rescinded.

            According to State Department data, there are nearly 400,000 holders of F visas and nearly 10,000 holders of M visas in the United States as of last year. These students play a key role in academic life in universities across the country by supporting cutting-edge research, enriching campus life, and helping the United States maintain its leadership role in higher education. Their presence is not only fundamental to academic life, but also support hundreds of thousands of jobs across the country each academic year.

            Given that many universities are planning on temporarily transitioning to online-only learning for the fall 2020 semester, this new policy puts many of these students at risk of deportation if they attempt to continue their education in the United States this fall. This disruption will threaten university communities and have a chilling effect on international students’ willingness to study in the United States moving forward.

            International students both enrich the higher education experience for all students and are a key part of the higher education ecosystem. The modifications to the Student and Exchange Visitor Program are needlessly punitive and fundamentally threaten a cornerstone of our nation’s higher education system. With this mind, we urge you to rescind these changes to the Student and Exchange Visitor Program.

            Thank you for your consideration and we look forward to your prompt response.

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