The Trump administration abruptly rescinded a policy that would have barred international students from studying in the United States if their classes were entirely online — a policy that alarmed some members of the Loyola community and its 1,000+ international students, who were unsure how this would impact their futures.
The controversial policy was announced July 6 by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) — an arm of the federal government overseen by President Donald Trump — and was repealed July 14 in response to a lawsuit filed by Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
According to the now-abandoned policy, if non-immigrant students carrying F-1 and M-1 visas wanted to continue their education in the U.S., they had to “take other measures,” such as transferring to a school offering in-person classes. The U.S. Department of State also said it wouldn’t have issued visas to students enrolled in online-only programs, nor would it have allowed them to enter the country.
Due to COVID-19, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Student and Exchange Visitor Program allowed students to take more online courses than normally permitted during spring and summer terms, according to ICE. But this temporary exemption wasn’t going to be applied for the upcoming fall semester.
ICE and the Trump administration didn’t respond to The Phoenix’s requests for comment ahead of publication.
Prior to the policy’s cancellation, Loyola President Jo Ann Rooney and Provost Norberto Grzywacz joined the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities and the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities in “pursuit of existing and planned judicial and legislative actions,” according to an announcement July 9.
Within days, Loyola, along with 40 other institutions, issued a declaration as part of a multi-state lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and ICE, according to a July 13 press release by the Illinois Attorney General. Loyola was also one of 178 colleges and universities supporting the legal complaint by Harvard and MIT, according to a July 15 announcement by Rooney and Grzywacz.
“This is not only a huge relief for these students, but a testimony to the advocacy of the Loyola University Chicago community as part of the family of higher education institutions.” Rooney and Grzywacz wrote. “We were glad that other such institutions across the country voiced their concerns.”
The president and provost had previously announced on July 9 — days before the policy was rescinded — they were planning on offering on-campus academic courses to keep over 1,000 international students enrolled at Loyola despite ICE’s policy.
Francesca Marchese Gonzalez, a Loyola senior double majoring in women’s and gender studies and global and international studies, is an international student from Guatemala. She said the policy’s rescission relieved the stress she felt while trying to figure out her class schedule, especially after Loyola announced it’s shifting most classes online to limit face-to-face interaction.
“Someone posted [the news] on their Instagram story,” Gonzalez, 21, said. “I was so relieved to the point where I wanted to tell my mom immediately, because I’ve been really stressed out the past couple 48 hours.”
As an F-1 visa holder, Gonzalez said she never really thought about how she could be affected by her courses being online.
“It’s unfair to tell us you can come and study and then say you know what it really depends on your institution, your coursework,” Gonzalez, 21, said.
Michelle Aldridge, an academic advisor at Loyola, said she felt anxious and like she had to do something for international students when the ICE policy was first announced. She said she decided to organize an “international circle” for international students to meet over Zoom “to hold space for students to process their feelings” and has been sharing local and national resources via email.
“Whatever I can do to support our international students and work around this this policy so our international students can stay I will do,” Aldridge wrote in an email to The Phoenix.
Loyola’s International Student and Scholar Services team celebrated the guidance’s reversal July 14 in an email to international students.
“In the pursuit of supporting our international students throughout the many complications surrounding the ICE Guidance from last week, this is a promising first step,” the email said.
Loyola senior Joey Ripcho started an online petition July 8 demanding the university create an in-person class option for international students — just one day before Loyola announced having plans to do so. By the time of publication, the petition had received over 9,300 signatures.
Ripcho, a 21-year-old majoring in business entrepreneurship and philosophy, wasn’t available for an interview by the time of publication, but said he “seriously can’t believe the petition gathered this much support for everyone” in an email to The Phoenix.
Maheen Naeem, a Loyola junior majoring in political science and economics, said she felt scared for her friends who are international students who have given up so much to be able to attend school in the U.S.
“I was really nervous just because I have a lot of friends who’ve spent this entire pandemic alone because they weren’t sure if they were going to be able to re-enter the U.S. for fall semester,” Naeem, 19, said.
Naeem, who is from Shanghai, China, said she’s technically an international student but has U.S. citizenship, meaning ICE’s guidelines don’t apply to her. When the university released its announcement in solidarity with international students, she said she felt proud to be a Loyola student.
“I think Loyola’s community is just known, for one, for being super open and super diverse and you meet so many people from different backgrounds,” Naeem said. “And I think without international students it just won’t be the same.”