Trump Extorts Universities Through Attack On International Students

In an effort to force reopenings, ICE says it will deport international students attending only online classes. If carried out, this xenophobic move would cause economic, educational, and health damage.
President Donald Trump (AP/ Evan Vucci)

President Donald Trump (AP/ Evan Vucci)

Updated July 14: The Trump Administration has rescinded this order. Our article about the original order and what was at stake is below.

On July 6, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced a change in policy for foreign nonimmigrant students in the United States. This coming fall semester, internationals studying solely online will have their student visas revoked. Along with that, foreign students who were abroad will no longer be able to come to the United States. Additionally, these students will only be able to study from their home country if the school is entirely online.

Schools are now obligated to offer on-campus courses, or they risk losing a significant amount of their foreign student population. They have until July 15 to inform the government if they are going to be fully online. Those adopting a “hybrid” system (a combination of online and in-person) must certify all of their students’ F-1 visas–of which there can be thousands, depending on student numbers–by August 4.

Why is this happening?

There are two main motivations that would cause the government to take such extreme actions:

Pressure schools to reopen

Recently, President Trump has been strongly pressuring schools to open their campuses in the fall, despite potential health risks to the student body. Trump’s pressure campaign includes threats to funding. “Everybody wants it,” he said during a White House event. “The moms want it, the dads want it, the kids want it. It’s time to do it.” The President has also used other countries reopening their schools as an example of what the U.S. should be doing. These include Germany, Sweden, and Norway–all of which, it should be mentioned, have had much greater success in minimizing the spread of COVID-19.

This is one way to convince more schools to open. Acting Deputy DHS Secretary Ken Cuccinelli said this move was designed with the purpose of encouraging schools to reopen. The President can use this policy as a way to threaten them when they already fear losing students.

Trump’s hardline immigration stance

This is just as blatant a motivation as the forceful reopening of schools nationwide. Given this administration’s past treatment of foreigners, the policy change is hardly surprising. President Trump has previously targeted the US H1-B visa program, which foreign students have used as a way to stay and work in the US with high-skilled jobs. There is, of course, Trump’s effort to rescind the DACA program. This latest move is an effective way of showing support for the xenophobic Trump voters, encouraging their beliefs, and reminding them that their candidate delivers.

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What would the consequences be?

There are numerous problems that this change will bring about. They call into question why such a shortsighted decision would be implemented. Some of the most problematic consequences will be:


Foreign students living in the U.S. are consumers just like any national citizen. They will buy American products and help fund American businesses. This is especially beneficial for smaller towns that have less money and rely on local schools. In this way, they are no different from an American student attending college.

Similarly, these international students will go on to get jobs and put more money into the economy. In its “Losing Talent” report, the National Association for Foreign Student Affairs (NAFSA) found that during the 2018–2019 school year, international students created 458,000 jobs. From 2019 to 2020, they contributed nearly $41 billion in total to the U.S. economy.

Many of the jobs that these students go on to fill that are crucial to the United States’ growth and productivity, becoming inventors, scientists, and health professionals. Removing international students from the American workforce would be detrimental to the economy, especially at a time when it is already hurting.


International students make up a significant number of students throughout the U.S. In the 2018–2019 school year, over 1 million students were from foreign countries–a number that has been rising since 2005. With this policy in place, it is certain that amount will drop in the coming year.

One major hassle for schools with online classes is arranging scheduled video calls. International time distance makes planning schedules more difficult, both for teachers and students. If foreign students on three different continents are in one class together, the timing must be made so all three can make it at a reasonable hour, and be able to attend regularly. That brings with it another issue: internet access. Many of these students’ homes will have unreliable internet, which is obviously necessary for online courses. This could be a major handicap for successful learning, potentially forcing students to drop out of school entirely.

Some international students will choose, rather than going home, to transfer to a different school that is holding in-person classes. This will hurt institutions teaching online by losing their population altogether, leaving financial burdens that many schools are already laden with.

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How are schools reacting?

This move by the government has caught schools completely off guard, and there have been several different reactions in the face of such an extreme measure. The most aggressive response so far has been a lawsuit filed by MIT and Harvard University. Their suit against the Trump administration comes in the face of a strategy that the schools say “is to create as much chaos for universities and international students as possible.” This isn’t the only lawsuit coming, as well. Massachusetts’s Attorney General Maura Healey announced on July 7 that the state would also sue.

Numerous college professors have spoken up, saying that they will offer independent studies–individual face-to-face courses–so that students can stay in the U.S. Heather Gerken, dean at Yale Law School, said that every faculty member she had talked with since the announcement had been willing to help. “One of my colleagues told me that he would teach outside in the snow if he needed to.”

The general outcry from schools across the country has been almost unanimous. This policy has forced them into a corner and they are incredibly upset. Ted Mitchell, president of the American Council on Education wrote, “This guidance provides confusion and complexity rather than certainty and clarity. We need flexibility, not a step in the wrong direction.”

The Rantt Rundown

With a new policy that will deport international students who were planning on studying here, the White House has once again made clear its desire to keep foreigners out of the U.S. It seems possible that the massive backlash may result in a walk back from the original change, but that certainly isn’t a given. It should seem obvious, but the love of learning that international students provide is not to be spurned. Perhaps President Trump himself put it best back in 2015:

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News // Donald Trump / Education / Government / ICE / Immigration