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Central attempts to thwart threats to international students

Last week, the federal government had announced new restrictions that directed international students on F-1/M-1 student visas to leave the country had they been registered for a fully online course load this fall. The July 6 directive also prohibited issuing visas to students enrolled in programs or schools that were fully online during the fall, threatening the academic liberty of millions.

Under intense scrutiny, the Trump Administration revoked it’s July 6 mandate, reverting modified regulations for F-1/M-1 student visa holders to its March 13 order, which allows students to stay in the country while taking fully online course loads for “the duration of the emergency”, referring to Covid-19. 

The highly controversial directive would have created a severe dent in Seattle Central’s enrollment during the 2020 Fall Quarter, causing budget cuts to exceed Seattle College’s currently modeled 20% reductions.

With over 800 students enrolled at Central during Spring Quarter on F-1 visas, Seattle Colleges’ Chancellor’s Office has been working with the State’s Attorney General to file a lawsuit on behalf of Washington’s university and college system.

Washington State, not alone in pushing back against the Trump administration’s efforts to push schools to reopen in the fall, filed a lawsuit on July 10 in federal court to challenge the directive, citing that international student expenditure in the state for the 2018-2019 year reached nearly a billion dollars.

On July 8, Harvard and MIT officials had also filed a lawsuit against the government, with the support of over 200 universities that have signed court briefs backing the legal challenge. Since, over 18 states across the nation have joined Massachusetts to also file a lawsuit against the Trump Administration, including Oregon, Wisconsin, and Virginia.

Though Central has yet to release an official statement unlike other schools (like the University of Washington, whose president released a statement condemning the directive the day after its release), administration claims it was busy developing a contingency plan for international students.

The contingency plan would have organized academic course plans for each F-1 student visa holder to receive in-person instruction and is now a back-up plan in case the Trump Administration retaliates with any additional threatening restrictions to international students.

Though students needed in-person instruction to remain in the country, Bradley Lane, Executive Vice President of Instruction for Seattle Central, clarified that the college was still trying to “make as much online” as possible. 

Dr. Sheila Edwards-Lange, president of Seattle Central College, says the school was especially worried about students outside of the country, detailing the uncertainty surrounding the ability for the contingency plan to protect the academic liberty of these students.

“… that still does not address the students that we would lose because they are already home and can’t get back,” said the president in a statement, “they wouldn’t be able to have an academic plan that would include in-person instruction, so we would lose those students.”

Although the new immigration restrictions have been rescinded, Dr. Edwards-Lange adds that the school needs to remain vigilant.

Amid severe budget cuts, Dr. Edwards-Lange says if the school did have to go forward with it’s contingency plan, Central would have to exempt international program staff from furloughs, which have been mandatorily implemented during the month of July, one day per week, and are in consideration for the future as the district faces harsh losses.

David Roseberry, Director of International Student Services at Central, says international student services teams have been in contact with students and are now providing “more concrete” guidance to F-1 student visa holders on how to proceed with Fall Quarter.  

Chancellor of Seattle Colleges Shouan Pan also weighed in, emphasizing that the district will continue to provide international students with “a high-quality learning experience, regardless of the mode of instruction.”

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