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OU, OSU respond to ICE proposal to bar some international students

Two people ride scooters past McCasland Field House on the University of Oklahoma campus in March. OU and OSU are working to help international students whose presence in the US could be threatened by federal rules. [Nate Billings/The Oklahoman]
Two people ride scooters past McCasland Field House on the University of Oklahoma campus in March. OU and OSU are working to help international students whose presence in the US could be threatened by federal rules. [Nate Billings/The Oklahoman]

The University of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State University are reviewing proposed federal guidance that would require international students to take classes in-person this fall in order to remain in the country.

Federal immigration officials announced Monday proposed changes to the Student and Exchange Visitor Program, but by Wednesday Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which plan to have classes entirely or mostly online this fall, filed a lawsuit seeking to block the changes from taking effect.

The proposed changes, from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, have distressed international students across the state and country who are unsure what the fall semester could look like amid the coronavirus pandemic.

OSU’s School of Global Studies and Partnerships and OU’s College of International Studies sought to reassure their international students this week.

In a Wednesday letter, OU President Joseph Harroz said the university is actively working with state, federal and campus partners to urge the Trump administration to reconsider the proposed changes, saying they are “incredibly unfair, harmful and unworkable.”

But OU also is reviewing the guidance and assessing the potential impacts on OU’s international students should the changes take effect, Harroz wrote.

“To each of our international students: you belong here, and we will do everything we can to keep you here," he wrote.

Harroz also announced the formation of a task force that will meet frequently to assess the situation and outline the tangible steps OU is taking to advocate for its international students. Interim Senior Vice President and Provost Jill Irvine and College of International Studies Dean Scott Fritzen will lead the task force.

Fritzen elaborated, saying campus leaders are doing everything they can to protect OU's international students.

"We are indeed actively working behind the scenes to work out specific assistance that we can offer to OU international students to ensure, in the unfortunate case in which these proposed changes do go into effect, that the students are able to successful(ly) navigate them without throwing their progress off track," he said.

Some OU students are planning a Monday rally to protest the proposed changes. OU touts having more than 2,000 international students.

Previously, those in the U.S. on student visas were barred from taking more than one online course. But as the coronavirus spread and most college campuses closed, ICE in March granted colleges some flexibility.

This week, ICE announced its intention to reinstate the requirement that at least some in-person learning take place for international students to be granted a visa.

"Nonimmigrant students within the United States are not permitted to take a full course of study through online classes," ICE said. "If students find themselves in this situation, they must leave the country or take alternative steps to maintain their nonimmigrant status.

At OSU, officials in the School of Global Studies cautioned international students against making any sudden decisions based on ICE's announcement. A statement from the school said OSU is committed to its international students and will work diligently to assist them in continuing their education in a safe and welcoming environment.

"Much of the ICE announcement this week pertains to international students attending universities that have gone to online only courses for the Fall 2020 Semester," the statement said. "While our international students may have some of their classes offered online, we are making every effort to offer most of our classes in person this fall, and it doesn’t appear that the guidance will negatively impact the majority of our students."

OSU expects to have roughly 1,100-1,500 international students enrolled this fall.

The federal guidance is slated to be finalized this month. It's not immediately clear if the pending litigation could prevent or delay the changes from taking effect before the fall semester begins.

Other colleges and universities are expected to back the lawsuit from Harvard and MIT.

Carmen Forman

Carmen Forman covers the state Capitol and governor's office for The Oklahoman. A Norman native and graduate of the University of Oklahoma, she previously covered state politics in Virginia and Arizona before returning to Oklahoma. Read more ›

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