NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ - Rutgers University - home to more than 8,000 foreign students during the spring semester - is reassessing its fall class configuration in light of new federal guidelines that would strip international students of their visas if their coursework is entirely online.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) measures could force foreign students to return to their native countries or transfer to schools that aren’t closing their doors in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The move was criticized by officials in higher education and government, including Gov. Phil Murphy, who called it "short-sighted.” Many suspect the measures are being enacted by the White House to put pressure on colleges and universities to host in-classroom instruction in the fall.
Rutgers announced on Monday that the vast majority of its classes in the fall will be held utilizing remote instruction in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Rutgers’ Jonathan Holloway raised the issue of trying to put thousands of students in dorms and classrooms during a health crisis during his first news conference as president on Monday.
He said the only exceptions would be made for students who are studying in fields such as engineering or performance art where in-person instruction cannot be duplicated utilizing video conferencing technology.
“We are still reviewing the proposed new policy to understand what effect it will have on our international students and to determine if our hybrid model for the fall semester will need to be modified in any way to accommodate our international students,” a Rutgers spokesperson said.
Several international students were hesitant to speak to TAPinto New Brunswick because, as one termed it, “interference from ICE.”
However, a woman from China who identified herself as Pei said, “I don’t know why they would do this. They are forcing us to choose between studying in dangerous conditions or go home. My hope is this goes away.”
So do administrators at Harvard and MIT, who on Wednesday filed suit against President Donald Trump’s administration over the new guidelines.
"The order came down without notice—its cruelty surpassed only by its recklessness. It appears that it was designed purposefully to place pressure on colleges and universities to open their on-campus classrooms for in-person instruction this fall, without regard to concerns for the health and safety of students, instructors, and others," Harvard University President Larry Bacow said.
The guidelines could also affect Middlesex County College, which has a campus in Edison and classrooms in New Brunswick and Perth Amboy. The school is home to about 100 international students enrolled on F-1 visas.
Similar to Rutgers, Middlesex County College is moving most of its fall semester class to online.
“The college is exploring what we might be able to do to enable them to maintain their visas while keeping students and employees safe,” a spokesman for the school told TAPinto New Brunswick.