Over 10,300 CSU students face uncertain futures after ICE announcement

(Omar Sanchez / Daily Titan)

Last week, Trang Nguyen was registered for classes and prepared to continue her fourth year pursuing a business management degree at Cal State Fullerton.

Now, Nguyen is one of more than 10,300 CSU students grappling with uncertain circumstances after the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced on Monday that international students on visas cannot remain in the country if their classes are entirely online for the fall semester.

The Student and Exchange Visitor Program, an organization that acts on behalf of the Department of Homeland Security, announced that the U.S. Department of State will not issue visas to students and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection will not allow the students to enter the U.S. if their fall courses or programs are fully online.

Active students in the country are instructed to leave the U.S. or enroll in a program that offers in-person instruction to maintain their lawful status, according to the announcement. Those who do not comply may be subject to immigration consequences such as removal proceedings.

Nguyen, who is from Vietnam, had attended high school in the U.S. as well as college, but was blindsided by ICE’s announcement.

“I freaked out at the beginning. I honestly don’t know what to do besides just waiting to see what Cal State Fullerton, what they’re going to do about it. So, now all I do is just worry,” Nguyen said.

CSUF’s International Student Services held an online seminar on Thursday via Zoom to give international students information and updates for the fall semester in relation to ICE’s announcement. 

“We know that you have questions. We have many questions as well,” said Jean Hoda, associate director of International Student Services and Scholars. “International students and scholars are carefully reviewing this guidance to determine how it applies to Cal State Fullerton international students.”

On Thursday, the CSU announced on Twitter that it had joined a lawsuit challenging the Trump administration over the new directives.

Sam Huang, a fourth year kinesiology student, is an international student from Taiwan, who grew up attending an American international school in Malaysia. In light of recent events, Huang said that he is stressed about the uncertainty regarding his legal status in the U.S. and his education. 

“I was in disbelief because of how sudden it is,” Huang said. “We’re halfway through summer and we all have plans already and now that’s just messing everything up.”

Huang said that international students like himself decided to stay in the U.S. because flying is not safe due to the COVID-19 pandemic and returning to the U.S. for their education would also be difficult.

Huang said that he hopes CSUF will help its international students by working through the loopholes as ICE’s announcement was vague. He suggested the university set up a study hall to fulfill the in-person class requirement as outlined by the department.

The Student Exchange Visitor Program requires hybrid programs to certify three criterias through the “Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status” form: the program offers in-person and virtual instruction, enrolled international students are taking at least a hybrid course load and those enrolled students are still taking the appropriate amount of units toward their degree program, according to the announcement.  

Hoda said CSUF will be adopting a hybrid model of instruction for the fall semester and the school will be making the appropriate notations on the I-20 form, a series of actions that will allow international students at CSUF to remain in the country. 

“In my nearly 20 years of experience as an international education professional, I have rarely seen an action that is so damaging to the spirit of global unity,” said Jack Hobson, senior director of the study abroad program.

On Wednesday, CSUF President Fram Virjee promised his support to international students in a campus-wide email. CSUF is working with the chancellor’s office and will be regularly updating international students, he said.

“I am deeply troubled by this divisive, destructive, and wrongheaded decision, and vow to stand with and advocate for these students,” Virjee said.

According to educationdata.org, international students made up 5.5% of students enrolled in U.S. colleges and universities in 2019. In 2018, foreign students contributed over $45 billion to the country’s  economy.

“From what I know, Cal State Fullerton relies on international students’ tuition fees, so I think that they should definitely do something to help us stay here,” Huang said. “Start from looking at and finding out how many international students actually stay here, that way they can measure how big their actions need to be.”

With approximately 2,000 international students enrolled at CSUF, the university could face a deficit of at least $32 million in undergraduate tuition and fees alone if all of them were to withdraw from the campus for two semesters. This number does not take into account the different prices paid by graduate students or the cost of living expenses, which could further increase the revenue loss. 

The CSU said in a statement that it is reviewing the new ICE directives to decide how to reduce impact on CSU students.

“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,” said Toni Molle, a CSU public affairs director.

She added that the chancellor’s office is working with individual campuses to go over whether courses meet the ICE directives. The chancellor’s office will provide more information for students in the near future, she said.

The directive stirred public outcry across social media and fueled multiple petitions. One online petition called for the allowance of nonimmigrant F-1 and M-1 students to remain in the United States, garnering over 370,000 signatures as of Thursday night.

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