US epidemic failure victimizes international students
Forcing colleges to reopen creates false sense of ‘back to normal’: analyst
Published: Jul 07, 2020 10:28 PM

Graduate students take a selfie before the Columbia University Commencement ceremony in New York, the United States, May 22, 2019. Photo:Xinhua

The US government announced another "stupid policy," as what analysts said and students as well as universities complained about, that if foreign students only have online courses in the 2020 fall semester, they must leave the US or take alternative steps to maintain their nonimmigrant status. 

The move has received heavy criticism in and out of the US, and if the new policy is enforced, roughly 370,000 Chinese students, the largest source of international students in the US, will become the biggest group to pay the price of the US failure in handling the pandemic

Other countries that will be heavily affected include India, which had 202,000 students studying in the US in the 2018-19 academic year, followed by South Korea, Saudi Arabia and Canada. 

Chinese analysts said that the move will further weaken the competitiveness and attractiveness of the US among Chinese people, and the impractical policy that tries to circumvent its poor coronavirus response can only cause more trouble.

"Nonimmigrant students within the United States are not permitted to take a full course of study through online classes. If students find themselves in this situation, they must leave the country or take alternative steps to maintain their nonimmigrant status, such as a reduced course load or appropriate medical leave," according to a statement released on the website of the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Zhao Lijian, a spokesperson for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, said at Tuesday's daily routine press conference that China is paying close attention to the policy, and China will try its best to protect the legitimate rights of Chinese students in the US.

The US Immigration and Customs Enforcement said it issued the policy "due to the pandemic for the fall 2020 semester." US President Donald Trump wrote on Twitter on Tuesday that "SCHOOLS MUST OPEN IN THE FALL!!!"  

Lü Xiang, a research fellow at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing, told the Global Times on Tuesday that "this is another nonsensical policy by the Trump administration. As always, the measures that they took to handle the pandemic are horrible and chaotic."

Although Trump wants schools to reopen in the fall, it would be a decision over which he has limited authority, as governors struggle with a nationwide rise in coronavirus infections, and states reverse and pause attempts to reopen, Reuters reported.

Schools are largely under the jurisdiction of state and local governments. Educators have struggled with decisions to open schools considering the risk of infection to students and faculty, the report said.

The new policy showed that the Trump administration is adding pressure on the universities across the country to reopen, Lü said, but the nonsensical measure goes against the principle and common sense for epidemic prevention by encouraging face-to-face classes rather than online courses.

By forcing universities and schools to reopen, the Trump administration could create a false sense of "back to normal" and show the voters that the government is successful in handling the pandemic, even as the epidemic situation worsens, Lü said.

The ICE policy also received criticism in the US. Harvard University President Larry Bacow said the policy is "a blunt, one-size-fits-all approach to a complex problem," NPR reported.

Chen Xi, an associate professor at the Yale School of Public Health, believes that the regulation won't be implemented, as the regulation is a big blow to international students and for educational institutions in the US.

"It will result in a significant reduction in the competitiveness of the US higher education industry, and damage its image in the international community," he said.  

He noted that schools and teachers will not agree to such a reckless regulation, and many of his colleagues have written letters and made other efforts to stop the policy from being enforced.

Zhao Yanhua, an overseas studying consultant at Plato Academy Schools, told the Global Times that most colleges and universities in the US have adopted a hybrid mode of teaching. 

But after the policy, all schools are expected to turn to a hybrid mode as it is the only option left that seems practical, she said. 

Zhao also noted that the policy will mostly affect students currently outside the US, as it will make it harder for them to return to the US.

Lü said "the policy is totally impractical, and when the US government tries to implement the policy, more chaotic situations and trouble will surface, and the administration is making foreign students and scholars the new victims of their failure to handle the pandemic."