As international students across the U.S. face uncertainty and the possibility of being forced back to their home countries, K-State officials said students currently in the country and enrolled full time should be able to continue their education in the fall.
The Student and Exchange Visitor Program, under the Department of Homeland Security, on Monday released new regulations saying that foreign students cannot remain in the U.S. if their college is operating entirely online this fall.
K-State on Thursday said it plans to offer in-person, online and hybrid opportunities, which would fulfill the requirements of the new regulations.
K-State President Richard Myers said Friday the university denounced the new rules as “immoral and counterproductive.”
“A policy that terminates students’ visas in the middle of their studies during a pandemic is wrong and will be detrimental for our students, our university, our state and our nation,” Myers said. “It will undermine our ability to attract and retain talented students and researchers, to enhance our diversity, to learn about different cultures, and to engage with the world. By reducing our access to international talent, this policy will threaten our nation’s economic leadership and our national security, all in the midst of a public health and economic crisis.”
In the spring, the International Student and Scholar Services reported that K-State had 1,358 international students.
Vedant Kulkarni, a junior in management information systems and mass communications originally from Nashik, India, said the new guidance and message from the university were reassuring, but he still has some doubts.
For example, he said, what would happen to international students if the local coronavirus situation worsens and K-State was forced to move all classes online as it did in the spring?
K-State spokeswoman Michelle Geering said the university is continuing to work on academic plans for the fall semester as the pandemic continues to be a “fluid” situation.
In any case, Provost Charles Taber said Tuesday in a university update that K-State has to be ready to shift to fully remote teaching if necessary. He said the university also is working on identifying what circumstances would lead to that decision.
Kulkarni, who also is the international affairs director for K-State’s Student Governing Association, said when he first heard the new rules, he was “blindsided.” He’d already experienced an upheaval in the spring when in-person classes were canceled.
At the time, Kulkarni also wondered whether his visa would be revoked. Typically, non-immigrant students with an F-1 visa cannot take more than one class, or three credit hours, online to remain in the U.S. However, that rule was waived for the school year.
“I was shocked, like my jaw dropped,” Kulkarni said. “The reason being we are in the middle of a global pandemic. … All of a sudden, the government comes and tells us, ‘Hey, if your university goes online, you have to get out, which is really scary because we don’t know if our university is staying in person or will be forced to go online.’”
Kulkarni had been keeping a close eye on developments for the school year, but until this week, there hadn’t been a policy that particularly addressed international students.
“This new policy that came is directly targeting the international students community,” Kulkarni said. “There’s no in-between middle ground or anything, it’s just like, ‘You got to get out if your university is online.’”
Kulkarni has been studying at K-State since 2017. He said it took nearly two years for him to prepare for the move, which included readying dozens of pages of documents, taking tests and getting approved for a visa.
If K-State were forced to cancel in-person classes and the current rule stands, Kulkarni said he is not sure what he and many other international students would be able to do as some may not be prepared to handle the cost of suddenly flying home or dealing with travel bans to and from certain countries.
“I don’t know what the backup plan would be because for me, right now India still has a complete restriction on international flights,” Kulkarni said. “The European Union has canceled flights (from the United States). If K-State all of a sudden announces we are going online, and if international students lose their legal status, there’s no way we can go home. … At the same time, if I have to go to India, my classes are in the afternoon and that’s like after midnight in India.”
Some universities have filed lawsuits to block the directive that would strip students of their visas. K-State has not indicated whether it would explore that option.
K-State plans to have classes from Aug. 17 to Dec. 4, with an additional week for final exams. However, in-person classes will end Nov. 20, just before Thanksgiving break, and students will finish out the semester online and remotely.
Officials said this plan aims to reduce the risk of spreading the virus at K-State campuses and communities because students will have to travel less.
For now, International Student and Scholars Services is working to reissue I-20s — eligibility certificates — for F-1 students who will be in the U.S. in the fall.
Officials said students outside the U.S. who are unable to return should contact their academic advisers about online enrollment options. Advisers also can discuss impacts on immigration status for students who will remain outside the U.S. for the semester.
Kulkarni said he would appreciate it if Americans would reach out to their representatives to help change the rule as international students don’t have that kind of voice in the U.S.
“I would ask if you have friends who are international students, please reach out to them, ask them how they’re doing and provide them some assistance if they need it,” Kulkarni said. “Just show support for their right to be here and support our voices.”