BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC) - One million students come to the United States from all over the world every year to study in American colleges, and many are now reeling from new guidance from Immigration and Customs Enforcement that might send them home this semester.
The rules from ICE state that international students may not take a full online course load and remain in the United States.
“The challenge with this directive is that it’s July, and students are starting back to school in six weeks,” said Jim Mather, Director of Friends of Internationals South Alabama.
If international students attend an institution only offering online classes or they choose to only take online classes, they have to figure out how to get home.
“Most American consulates are closed due to COVID 19, so will they get their Visa stamped, will they be able to fly, will the airport be open? All of these are fundamentally unknown,” said Mather.
Mather communicates with thousands of international students and runs an international church in south Alabama, and he says the mood is grim.
“What I am getting -- the feedback and what I am seeing in the last 24 hours -- is fear, disappointment, rejection, insecurity”, he said.
That insecurity is twofold; the immediate news, and the ICE provision also states if schools switch to fully online during the semester, they would have to leave then too.
“We need to have empathy, compassion and wisdom in context, these are very valuable people,” said Mather.
It’s worth noting that international students contributed $45 billion to the American economy in 2018 alone according to the United States Department of Commerce.
Mather is optimistic the restrictions will be relaxed.