On July 6, Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced new guidelines for F-1 and M-1 international students studying in the United States and then rescinded those guidelines on July 14. F-1 students are those studying academic coursework and M-1 students are those studying vocational coursework; both of these groups together amount to more than 1 million international students currently studying in the U.S. According to ICE’s announcement, international students enrolled in programs that have switched to all-online classes in the fall due to COVID-19 would not have been able to stay in the United States; the guideline stated that international students must be registered for at least one in-person course for their visas to remain valid. The new guideline prompted backlash from universities and activist groups around the country and has been reported as a political strategy to pressure universities into reopening in the fall despite the threat of COVID-19. Meredith College has a robust international program for F-1 students and is among those colleges that took steps to oppose the government’s new guideline.
The Trump administration decided to reverse the guideline after being confronted with “eight federal lawsuits and opposition from hundreds of universities,” according to the Associated Press. The decision was announced as the hearing in a lawsuit brought by Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) began on Tuesday and no doubt came as a relief to international students across the United States who were questioning whether they would have to return to their home countries in the midst of a pandemic.
Prior to the reversal of the guideline, Meredith staff and faculty were working to oppose ICE’s directive. In an email that was sent out to students on July 10 on behalf of President Jo Allen, it was stated that she had contacted North Carolina legislators in support of overturning the guideline and had added her signature to several letters opposing the guideline. Provost Matthew Poslusny also “expressed a commitment to ensure that every F-1 student at Meredith is able to enroll in an in-person course.” The provost himself, several members of the Executive Leadership Team, the Deans and some faculty and staff had offered to teach face-to-face courses for international students, as well.
During the week between the guideline being announced and consequently rescinded, Meredith students also did their part to elicit change. Current student Amanda Duran, ‘23, created a petition that received over 700 signatures and which asked “Meredith College and President Jo Allen to create a one-credit credit-no-credit class with one meeting a quarter as well as excused absences in all quarters” for international students. Duran said that she created the petition because she “wanted to make sure the students at our school knew they have people supporting them” and that although she is “not an international student, [she has] always been aware of the way ICE terrorizes the immigrant community.”
Director of International Programs Brooke Shurer noted in an interview with The Herald that over the past week, she and the Office of International Programs (OIP) staff were busy “consulting with legal and immigration experts throughout the country each day.” Consulting with leading immigration experts was meant to ensure that whatever solutions Meredith came up with did not accidentally jeopardize their international students’ visa statuses or lead to Meredith losing their ability to continue hosting international students. Dr. Shurer stated in her interview that she believed the lawsuits from Harvard and MIT, as well as the one from the University of California system, had “the best chance of enacting actual change to the guidelines,” and Meredith voiced their support for these lawsuits through their professional associations. Her prediction ended up being accurate, as it is likely that the Trump administration rescinded the guideline due to pressure from influential universities and the large number of lawsuits filed against them.
All in all, Dr. Shurer emphasized that ICE’s guideline was “beyond cruel and shortsighted,” especially because F-1 international students like those at Meredith have already gone “through so many hurdles” and “have earned the right to...complete their education without having to compromise their health and safety.” The fact that this guideline was rescinded is good news for international students and those who have been advocating on their behalf.
Though the guideline has been reversed, it is still important for students to support their international student peers by reminding them that they are a “tremendously valued part of our community,” as Dr. Shurer put it. If you want to learn more about international students on campus, she recommends getting involved with the Meredith International Association (MIA) — every Meredith student is encouraged to join, including those who are not international students. MIA hosts programs throughout the year celebrating and educating students about the cultures of Meredith’s international community. You can contact MIA President Kezia Wafula (firstname.lastname@example.org) for more information.
If you’re an international student looking for additional support during this time, there are many resources available for you even beyond the OIP. Even though the guideline has been reversed, the increased stress of this time can be detrimental to one’s health and Dr. Shurer identified many campus offices that are currently offering aid to international students: the Dean and Assistant Dean of Students, Chaplain’s Office, Counseling Center, Residence Life, Academic Advising and Admissions are just a few of the many offices that are supporting international students’ “emotional well-being, financial stability, logistical security, and physical health.”
By Olivia Slack, Co-Editor in Chief