Dear Pomona College Community,

Like many of you, we are deeply concerned about the impact upon our students of last week’s guidance from ICE about the status of international students on F-1 visas for the fall semester. 

This new guidance, issued without warning or the opportunity for public comment, brings harmful changes to the Student and Exchange Visitor (SEVIS) Program, and Pomona is part of a coalition of 20 higher education institutions in the Western U.S. suing the federal government today to block the U.S. Department of Homeland Security from revoking visas for international students whose studies will be entirely online in the fall. 

The lawsuit seeks a temporary restraining order, preliminary injunction and permanent injunction to stop the July 6 directive from being enforced and its policies from being implemented. "The government’s thoughtless and arbitrary action not only harms these students, but also robs institutions of higher education of the autonomy and flexibility to adapt models of instruction to meet the urgent needs posed by a global pandemic," notes the coalition in a statement.

If the government follows through on these rules, international students enrolled at an American institution currently offering an online-only course of study would be required to leave the country. This would penalize the many students who have compelling reasons to remain here. 

On the other hand, students enrolled at an institution offering a hybrid program, including both in-person and online classes, must be in the United States to retain their visas and their active SEVIS record. This would penalize the many students who are unable—for any of a number of legitimate reasons—to return here at this time and are dependent upon online courses to continue their studies during the coronavirus crisis. Down the line, this could prevent them from enjoying many of the benefits that should come with their education, including the ability to do internships or obtain employment authorization in the United States. 

International students represent one of American higher education’s most vulnerable populations during this crisis. This new guidance seems targeted to make their lives more difficult, as a way of pressuring institutions across the country to reopen for in-person classes, regardless of the health consequences. 

We at Pomona recently announced our decision to provide remote education this fall. We see this as a public health imperative, to protect the welfare and safety of our entire community and to do our part in battling this terrible pandemic, which is surging here in Southern California even as we speak. Given this new development, however, we must explore every option available to us and seek every recourse within our legal powers to resolve this dilemma. 

We are hopeful that the guidance will be reversed, but we cannot count on that outcome, so we are considering a range of options at the same time, including partnering with other institutions internationally to create options for students already outside the United States and offering a few in-person or hybrid courses for those who need to be here.

We will continue to reach out to our international students to explain the situation, express our concern and offer assistance in ways we can. These are our students, Pomona students, as promising as any young people in the world. For many of them, a liberal arts education at Pomona will be the realization of a life’s dream.

We are committed to supporting our students and opposing this arbitrary new guidance.

 

Sincerely,

G. Gabrielle Starr, president
Robert Gaines, vice president for academic affairs and dean of the college
Avis Hinkson, vice president for student affairs and dean of students


Joint coalition lawsuit statement:

A coalition of 20 of the country’s premier research institutions, liberal arts colleges and public universities in the West sued the federal government today to block the U.S. Department of Homeland Security from revoking visas for international students whose studies will be entirely online in the fall. 

The lawsuit is seeking a temporary restraining order, preliminary injunction, and permanent injunction to stop the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s July 6 directive from being enforced and its policies from being implemented. 

The government’s thoughtless and arbitrary action not only harms these students, but also robs institutions of higher education of the autonomy and flexibility to adapt models of instruction to meet the urgent needs posed by a global pandemic. 

Our more than 50,000 combined international students are an integral part of our communities and essential to our core missions. We are pursuing this case because all international students studying in this country deserve the right to continue their education without risk of deportation. Many of these students, in a sign of their determination and commitment, have stayed in the United States during this international health crisis to ensure their education was not interrupted by returning home and not being granted a visa to return.

The universities and colleges in the coalition are the University of Southern California, University of Oregon, Oregon State University, Arizona State University, California Institute of Technology, Chapman University, Claremont McKenna College, Northern Arizona University, Pitzer College, Pomona College, Santa Clara University, Scripps College, Seattle University, Stanford University, St. Mary’s College of California, University of Arizona, University of the Pacific, University of San Diego, University of San Francisco and University of Utah.