Guest Columnist

Let Iowa's international students stay here and learn

The Old Capitol Museum is seen on the University of Iowa campus in Iowa City on Wednesday, March 18, 2020. (Andy Abeyta/
The Old Capitol Museum is seen on the University of Iowa campus in Iowa City on Wednesday, March 18, 2020. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)

The COVID-19 pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement reveal cracks in U.S. institutions and a need to refocus our collective energy on human rights — especially when policies target vulnerable community members. The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency’s announcement on July 6 revealed the federal government’s willingness to hurt international students.

The memo requires international students to enroll in face-to-face or hybrid classes (online + face-to-face), or they will be banned from the U.S. Unlike spring semester policy, ICE expects international students to exit the country if a university switches to a virtual-only format. This ICE protocol places a terrible burden on students who came to the U.S. to learn and contribute to our universities. It hurts not only students, but all of us.

Last year Iowa’s colleges and universities enrolled 12,624 international students. Their educational participation accounts for $409.7 million spent in our state. Most international students (8,276) attend one of the two research universities — the University of Iowa or Iowa State University.

In the case of the UI, 16.9 percent of its graduate students are international students. UI’s world-class academic programs attract students from across the globe to Iowa. In 2019, Hawkeyes hailed from 108 countries, and stand out as their nations’ most talented individuals in their academic fields. They leave the familiarity of home to share their exceptional talents and perspectives, and to work alongside stellar faculty and the top U.S. students. International students’ contributions expand how we investigate and use science to address global issues. The exclusion of international students’ efforts will significantly slow the pace of essential research — the exact opposite of what the U.S. needs when it is time for an “all hands on deck” approach to addressing the COVID-19 pandemic as a health, social and economic matter that has grave and dire consequences.

The ICE guidelines would require campuses to have more in-person class offerings. Increasing face-to-face interactions seems likely to put the health and safety of the entire community at greater risk. This is foolish, and so is making students travel home if the pandemic gets worse.

Sending international students home creates multiple problems. At the national level, it demonstrates that the U.S. is not to be trusted with other countries’ best and brightest, and it paints the U.S. (where infection rates are the highest) as having no regard for sending massive numbers of its inhabitants (who may have been exposed) to other nations. Further, if international students are forced to return home, they are likely to lose access to the educational tools and resources they need. Frankly, the global landscape for internet privacy, internet access and academic freedom varies widely. Where someone lives in the world has a profound impact on whether, how and what someone is able to learn and study.

The U.S. attracts top talent to its world-class universities. The ICE pronouncement doesn’t serve any of us, especially international students.

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Brian An, Cassie L. Barnhardt, David Bills, Nicholas Bowman, Katharine Broton, Kenneth G. Brown, Ain Grooms, Liz Hollingworth, Debora Liddell, Jodi Linley, Leslie Locke, Megan McVancel, Christine Ogren, Ernest Pascarella, Katrina Sanders, Steve Triplett and Sherry Watt are faculty in the Department of Educational Policy and Leadership Studies at the University of Iowa College of Education. coe-epls@uiowa.edu

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