International students, among them hundreds of Kenyans currently in the US, are scrambling to figure out what next a week after America’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) rolled out new guidelines stating that those whose institutions were only offering online classes would be required to leave the country.
ICE and the Student and Exchange Visitor Program also say new student visas won’t be granted for online-only instruction. The agencies cited the Covid-19 pandemic in making the changes.
“This rule has brought a lot of anxiety and fear among us Kenyan international students in the US. The directive is not even clear and so there’s just uncertainty and we don’t know what to do,” said Mordecai Njoroge, a Kenyan-born student at Cornerstone University in Michigan.
Mr Njoroge is one of an estimated 3,451 Kenyan students enrolled in US institutions of higher learning in the 2018- 2019 academic year, who could be affected by the changes.
The new guidelines from ICE state that international students would be forced to leave the US or transfer to other colleges if their schools entirely offer classes online this fall.
This rule came as a shocker to many colleges, students, and professors with most big universities and colleges scrambling to go to court to stop it.
“I have been receiving a lot of phone calls from my students in New York asking to know what this exactly means to them. Many are feeling that they are being unfairly punished because the university does not offer face-to-face classes for the Fall because of unprecedented Covid-19 pandemic conditions beyond their control,” Said Prof David Monda, a lecturer at City University of New York (CUNY)
He noted that poorly thought out policy of US immigration has thrown the educational plans of many foreign students into disarray. They could lose their scholarships and get deported for being out of status. In addition, Prof Monda said, many students are themselves parents which poses the real challenge of separating families.
“To me, this appears to be a blatant political ploy from the Trump Administration to gain cheap political points on immigration for the November election. It is also a way to force institutions of higher learning to open face-to-face classes prematurely. I'm sure it will become immediately challenged in court. Harvard University and MIT have already begun proceedings,” he added.
Prof Jerono Rotich, founder and CEO of Kenya Students in Diaspora (KESID) Foundation said majority of international students are grappling with this new development that they are now living in heightened fear, anxiety and uncertainty in the midst of the pandemic.
She says the announcement has sparked immediate and intense confusion and is likely to disrupt normal semester activities.
“The unsettling feeling for most of these students is the thought of abandoning studies, the uncertainties of their health especially in airports if they have to travel back home given the recent cases of a majority of airline workers contracting Covid-19 and most succumbing to it,” she said.
Prof Rotich said this move, ignores the preparation, plans and investment international students had in place for the remainder of the year.
“Literally, it throws them under the bus! Bypassing years of tumultuous pain and the sacrifice (financial and emotional) international students go through to get to the US for better education. Given that most came to the US for quality education, it raises more questions than answers on the future of international students in the US. If a looming pandemic can threaten the place of the international students in the US, then it raises doubts for anyone planning to enrol for future education in the US,” she added.
Mr Njoroge wondered what had changed to make the Trump administration resort to such extreme measures given that earlier this year, the Department of Homeland Security had given some flexibility for the students by allowing most of us to end the semester online.
Mr Njoroge noted many colleges have plans to institute hybrid classes that entail online and face-to-face interactions.
“The biggest question now is what implications will this have on our studies in the short and long term? What happens when schools start physical lessons and potentially go online again due to the potential second wave,” he wondered.