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UPDATED: Government Pulls Visa Proposal

By Dateline Staff on July 14, 2020 in University

Updated 4:30 p.m. July 14

University of California Board of Regents Chair John A. Pérez and President Janet Napolitano issued the following joint statement today on the Department of Homeland Security’s decision to rescind a directive that would have forced international students to leave the country if their schools held all classes online due to COVID-19:

This sudden reversal by ICE is a win for common sense and for public health. Revoking the visas of international students in the midst of a pandemic would have put students’ futures, their communities’ health and the U.S. economy in further jeopardy. College and university leaders must be allowed to make decisions about campus operations that are guided by public health experts — not by a hastily drafted, arbitrary and mean-spirited policy.

UC will continue putting our students’ health and safety first — and we will be keeping a watchful eye on what the administration might propose next should we need to step in again.

Updated 1 p.m. July 14: The UC Office of the President confirmed media reports that the Trump administration had rescinded its proposed policy modifications that would have kept international students from staying in the United States if their schools offered online instruction only in the fall. An SISS webinar will go on as scheduled, 11 a.m. this Thursday (July 16), given that international students may still have questions for immigration attorneys. Check back for updated information, including a statement from UC.

Original post, July 14: International students attending this week’s webinar to discuss a threat to their visas will go into the meeting with the complete support of the University of California and UC Davis, and knowing that UC is preparing to take the federal government to court on this issue.

The fight is over proposed modifications to the Student and Exchange Visitor Program, or SEVP, to prohibit international students from receiving all their instruction remotely, starting in the fall.  

Under normal circumstances, students holding F visas are allowed each term to take one class (or three credit hours) remotely. The SEVP granted a temporary exemption to this rule after UC Davis and other universities, in an effort to guard against the spread of COVID-19, switched to all-remote instruction last spring.

The exemption extended into summer, but, for the fall term, the Department of Homeland Security announced July 6 that visa holders, if their schools offered online instruction only, would not be permitted to take full, online-only course loads and remain in the United States — telling the students that they must transfer to schools with in-person instruction or leave the country.

UC Davis and many other institutions this fall are planning to offer an instructional hybrid — a mix of in-person and remote courses, subject to change, given the evolving nature of the pandemic.

Under the government’s modified exemption, visa holders whose schools adopt a hybrid model of instruction would be allowed to take more than one remote class, provided each student’s school certified that the student was not taking an entirely online course load and was taking the minimum number of online classes required to make normal progress in their degree program.

UC issued a news release July 8 saying the university would file a lawsuit challenging the proposed guidelines that President Janet Napolitano described as “mean-spirited, arbitrary and damaging to America.” The state of California last week announced its own lawsuit, in conjunction with the California State University system and California Community Colleges; and Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology also are suing.

UC Davis Chancellor Gary S. May, Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor Mary Croughan and Vice Provost and Dean of Global Affairs Joanna Regulska issued a statement July 9 calling the guidelines “cruel and thoughtless.”

“We are here to help,” they said. “Please know this new homeland security guidance has no immediate effect on visa statuses. And please be assured that, so long as permitted by public health authorities, we are committed to providing ample in-person class experiences to enable those who need in-person courses to comply with the recently announced federal requirements.”

“What Happens If We Force Foreign Students Out of the Country?” Hear from Giovanni Peri, professor of economics and head of the UC Davis Global Migration Center, who issued a policy paper July 13 detailing the economic and education consequences.

‘Counter to our values’

May, Croughan and Regulska said the proposed guidelines “run counter to our values at UC Davis. ... We want to assure you that UC Davis remains committed to supporting our international students and scholars who add enormously to the excellence that puts us amongst the world’s leading research and teaching institutions.

“UC Davis is a wonderfully diverse community and we consider this one of our greatest strengths. We are proud of our global and inclusive campus. ... In today’s interconnected world this global and cultural exchange is more important than ever.

“We also know the hard work and sacrifice of international students who have achieved so much, have strong ties in our communities, and have made UC Davis their home away from home during their studies.”

Board of Regents Chair John A. Pérez sounded a similar theme in the UC news release: “The University of California’s legacy and leadership would not be the same without the international students and faculty who have come to this institution.”

He emphasized the reason UC has increased remote instruction: to protect the health of all students.

Napolitano added: “The safety of our students and the campus community is our paramount concern and guides what we do. The idea that the federal government would add to the burden of students and universities working to navigate this global health crisis beggars belief. UC will fight this blatant disregard for the law and public health with all the legal means at our disposal.”

Webinar guests

All three attorneys are from Wolfsdorf Rosenthal LLP:

  • Bernard P. Wolfsdorf, managing partner, past president of the 15,000-member American Immigration Lawyers Association
  • Cliff Rosenthal, founding partner
  • Josune Aguirre Gamez, associate attorney

Follow Dateline UC Davis on Twitter.

About the author(s)

Dateline Staff Dave Jones, editor, can be reached at 530-752-6556 or Cody Kitaura, news and media relations specialist, can be reached at 530-752-1932 or