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The article “International Students Banned From Online-Only Instruction” took the tone that government action to follow existing rules was something new and puts further hardship on universities struggling to come up with ways to keep students safe. A more balanced perspective should consider what is best for the international students and how universities should be held accountable to deliver on what they promised to their foreign guests.

For those that might have missed the announcement, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has put out a statement that in essence states that international students can't stay in the USA if their program moves to full remote learning. The article goes on to state that this is another mean-spirited initiative by the government against foreigners and has the potential to further damage the already very damaged international education enterprise.

My first reaction was the same, this is yet another blow to international education and moves like this mean I may never get back to work in this field; but then I recalled that this is also nothing new. DHS has always said that online students can't come to the USA on a F-1 visa and my university clients have always been careful to make sure that online programs were different that on-campus ones so that international students can come here. 

Temporary or not, remote learning is a poor option for an international student. They didn’t travel halfway around the world to be told they have to sit in an apartment and stare at a screen all day. International students need support and they learn best through face-to-face interactions and networking. They expect be fully supported by faculty, fellow students and the university support structure. They need access to healthcare, libraries, labs and support facilities.

In my opinion, and the opinion of many of those that serve these students, anything short of this is as damaging to the enterprise as having them fully online or sending them home. If universities want to keep their international students here, then they should provide exceptions to remote learning to allow those students to be on campus and to do their best to fulfill the promises they made to those students at the beginning of their program.

Colleges should think creatively to find ways to require international students to be on campus and be safe during the pandemic. Such a requirement will mean those students can stay. Colleges could require international students come to labs, take on-campus elective courses, seminars and workshops or add a required in-person component to international student activities, even if only a few hours a week. Students can take their courses remotely, but still be on campus in an environment that is supportive and safe.

Those colleges that put the welfare of their international students first, will not only get to keep them (and their tuition dollars) here, they will have a chance to differentiate themselves from other institutions who waiver in their support of international students. If airlines, hotels, groceries and retail stores can operate with modified operations during the pandemic, then hopefully colleges can too. On the surface the DHS act may have seemed mean-spirited, but when you really think about it, what government is doing is just holding the institutions accountable for what they promised and that may not be such a bad thing.

--Mark Shay

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