Presidents’ Alliance Condemns ICE for Denying Enrollment to First Time International Students Enrolled in Online-Only Classes



July 23, 2020
Contact: Jose Magaña-Salgado (

Washington, D.C.—The Presidents’ Alliance is deeply disappointed that  U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has failed to provide updated flexibility to allow first-time international students, whose programs have transitioned to online-only classes for the fall semester in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, to enter the United States to begin their course of study. On July 14, 2020, ICE rescinded problematic guidance that would deport current international students enrolled in institutions offering online only courses in the fall or that might have had to transition to online-only in the middle of the semester. 

This rescission, however, simply restored previous guidance that did not address the reality that the fall semester marks the start of many of the degree granting programs for new international students enrolled in United States colleges and universities. The status quo of the previous guidance drafted last spring, which directed that new (“initial status”) international students should stay in the home country, is now serving as a bar to their enrollment. Students and colleges and universities need updated, responsive flexibility so that they can implement their plans for the fall semester in the manner they deem best and to adapt to changing trends in COVID-19 and public health guidance. For this to happen, ICE should permit all international students, including new first year international students currently living abroad, to enter the United States to start their education, regardless of whether that education will be taking place fully online, in person, or a hybrid of the two. Last week, the Presidents’ Alliance sent a letter to ICE with specific recommendations on how to address this issue and provide much-needed flexibility for these students and their campuses. 

Louis Caldera, Co-Chair and Senior Advisor of the Presidents’ Alliance, stated: “We deplore DHS’s continued failure to provide flexible guidance to colleges and universities that would allow them to, with confidence, communicate to newly enrolling international students that they may if they choose to proceed with their plans to come to the United States to begin their courses of study. By starting locally with the entering class they were accepted to, such students are able to stay on track with their studies, contribute to the education of all students through their global perspectives, and avail themselves of the benefits of being part of a university community. International student enrollments were already expected to be down. DHS’s failure to provide this needed flexibility will likely reduce enrollments by tens of thousands of students and cost the affected schools and their local economies millions of dollars. Moreover, the lack of definitive guidance seriously undermines our nation’s standing as the destination of choice for international students. These students spend months–in some cases years–and tens of thousands of dollars preparing to come study here and we are pulling the rug out from under their feet. DHS’s unresponsiveness and lack of flexibility will cause long term damage to the higher education sector and slow our economic recovery.”