By Matthew O’Shaughnessy
This week, hundreds of thousands of international students enrolled at U.S. colleges and universities learned they must take in-person classes during the fall semester to remain in the country. International students at schools that switch to online classes midway through the semester will be forced to transfer to a different school, leave their homes in the United States at short notice amid pandemic-induced travel restrictions, or be in violation of their visa status.
In addition to upending the lives of approximately a million students, this misguided regulation will reduce the competitiveness of our colleges and universities, damage our economic recovery, and make it more difficult to control the COVID-19 pandemic. The regulation comes on the heels of another recent executive action that paused the issuance of H-1B visas, creating uncertainty that will harm our ability to attract foreign talent to the America for years to come.
I am a Ph.D. student at Georgia Tech, where I am fortunate to be surrounded and enriched by international students. International students at Georgia Tech are my classmates, research collaborators, and friends; their presence is a vital part of Georgia Tech’s vibrant culture and academic prestige.
The benefits that international students bring to Georgia Tech, our state, and our country are enormous. International students play a key role in maintaining Georgia Tech’s exceptional academic reputation, and our country’s ability to attract foreign talent is critical to our economic growth and, particularly in science and engineering disciplines, our national security.
Financially, colleges and universities rely on the full tuition most international students pay, which effectively subsidizes tuition for domestic students. Many schools, already facing increased costs and significantly reduced revenues due to COVID-19, will face an existential financial threat if international students are forced to withdraw en masse; others will be forced to abandon core parts of their teaching and research missions.
The economic benefit that international students bring goes beyond the colleges and universities that they attend. Our economic success is due in large part to our ability to attract talent from around the world. One recent analysis estimated that last year alone international students had an economic impact of more than $41 billion, supporting more than 450,000 American jobs.
A majority of international students remain in the United States after graduating, where they are key contributors to American innovation and economic competitiveness.
As we struggle to control to control the COVID-19 pandemic, we should be doing everything possible to help colleges and universities safeguard our public health.
This regulation will do the opposite. Moving some or all classes online is a key component of schools’ plans to control outbreaks on campuses; forcing schools to make the impossible trade-off between its international students and public health constrains the kind of decision making we need to keep us safe.
The Trump administration should immediately correct this misguided and self-destructive regulation, protecting our international students, economic recovery, and public health.