by Brendan Rose
After multiple lawsuits and widespread condemnation by universities, the federal government rescinded sudden sweeping changes to the visa requirements for international students, which created panic and confusion for Purchase’s students and administration.
“This community we have created is home and it is devastating to know that it can be taken away so fast,” said Stephanie Harkness, a junior dance major from Toronto.
The announcement came July 14, from a federal courtroom in Boston where immigration authorities agreed to drop the new rules, returning to the pre-July 6 standards. This announcement also nullified the lawsuit brought by Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
“Our international students are a vital part of our community, so we were heartened to learn on July 14 that the U.S. government decided to return to previous guidelines for international students,” said Anne Kern, Dean for Global Strategy and International Programs and head of the Office of International Programs and Services at Purchase College.
New York State had filed a suit on behalf of SUNY and CUNY, joining Harvard, MIT and the University of California system, for an injunction against the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Department of Homeland Security, regarding the enforcement of the new federal restrictions.
“I am very happy for the withdrawal of this policy by the federal government, but even more so grateful with NY State, the SUNY system and all other states who sued the Trump administration for this policy,” said Alexander Hippert, a sophomore music studio production major.
Hippert is a citizen of the U.S. but grew up in Costa Rica and had not lived in the U.S. until his acceptance to Purchase. He now works closely with international students as a global ambassador for the school. He added, “It is yet another policy that is based on racist and xenophobic rhetoric, a common trait of this administration throughout.”
The sudden change announced on July 6 forced 36 of Purchase’s international students to scramble to enroll in in-person classes and forced the administration to invent new class schedules to protect their students, in a rush to meet the new punitive standards.
According to Kern, a majority of the 71 international students were impacted in some way by travel restrictions, visa restrictions, U.S. consulate closures in most countries and lack of commercial flights.
“International students are still students. The pandemic is something that was out of our hands and losing something that we did not choose to lose is unfair,” said Dematria Mugeni, a senior theater and performance major from Kenya.
Students and administrators had expected ICE to extend the provision that had been created for the spring and summer sessions as the virus cleared out college campuses. The Purchase administration was caught off guard however, when that was not the case, according to Kern.
A number of students who were contacted for this article expressed their fears of going on
the record to criticize ICE’s policies.
“If I tried to get another visa, not a student visa but a working visa, or possibly a green card for the future, now they're saying that they might check our past statements on social media or our account,” said a recently graduated Purchase student from Japan, speaking under the condition of anonymity.
The week and a half of uncertainty created by the rule changes only added to the anxiety built by the pressure to silence criticism that ICE exerts on international students. Students are dependent on keeping their status and losing it can be devastating.
“I was in the fear of losing my visa status every day and it has impacted my life and my mental health enormously,” a senior international student from Taiwan, speaking under the condition of anonymity.
The White House pushed for these changes in an effort to force universities to reopen in the fall, with the Trump Administration being opposed to online-only curricula. The policy change made international students a bargaining chip in a greater effort by the federal government to impose its control on state and private institutions.
In a letter to members of the Harvard Community, Harvard President Lawrence Bacow wrote, “It appears that it was designed purposefully to place pressure on colleges and universities to open their on-campus classrooms for in-person instruction this fall, without regard to concerns for the health and safety of students, instructors, and others.”
“We, as international students, have no choice but be forced to accept whatever the government’s policy is,” said the senior international student from Taiwan.