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Open Your Classrooms or Say Goodbye to Foreign Students!

Posted by Michael Kohler | Jul 07, 2020 | 0 Comments

On July 2, as a parent of a Columbia University student, I received the email below from its president, Lee C. Bolinger:  

Dear fellow members of the Columbia community:

Next week I will be writing with an update on the University's plans for the fall semester. Today, I write in response to the Trump administration's recently issued proclamation expanding the existing restrictions on immigration to also cover non-immigrants who seek entry into the United States under certain visas—H-1B and J-1, specifically. Unfortunately, even tragically, the new restrictions will make it harder for faculty, physicians, and research scholars to enter the United States. This has the potential to cause severe damage to our academic institutions and to the scientific community, in particular. I cannot overstate how strongly I disagree with these new restrictions. 

They strike at the heart of how American universities function, at their basic character, and at the principles that have contributed to the enormous advances in knowledge over the past century especially. Our great research universities, like Columbia, are able to contribute to the public good precisely because of the commitment to be part of an international community of scholars and researchers. The search for knowledge transcends national boundaries, and the strengths of our universities depend on tapping into that collective quest. Besides negatively affecting the sense of shared purpose, these changes have very practical adverse consequences for public health, the economy, and general human wellbeing.

According to the American Immigration Council, over the past decade, eight companies that are currently trying to develop a COVID-19 vaccine (Gilead Sciences, GSK, INOVIO Pharmaceuticals, Johnson & Johnson's pharmaceutical arm, Moderna Therapeutics, Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, Sanofi, and Vir Biotechnology) received approvals for 3,310 biochemists, biophysicists, chemists, and other scientists through the H-1B program. Additionally, the Council points out that an increase in H-1B visas could create an estimated 1.3 million new jobs and add around $158 billion to U.S. GDP by 2045.

These statistics, important but abstract, cannot fully capture the harm caused by the misguided changes in the nation's visa policies. There will be very direct and difficult human consequences for members of our institutional family, affecting our international students, researchers, faculty, and staff who daily bring the world to our intellectual doorstep. They are our colleagues, neighbors, and friends. I am certainly committed on Columbia's behalf to opposing restrictive immigration policies such as these and to continuing Columbia's longstanding efforts to embrace the world, not turn against it, which only weakens us and inhibits the fundamental quest for human understanding.


Lee C. Bollinger

I could not agree more with the beautifully written, accurate words of president. Bollinger.  Unfortunately, "the misguided changes in the nation's visa policies" did not stop there.  On July 6, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced that international students would not be permitted to enter or remain in the United States if their university chooses to hold all classes online for the Fall 2020 semester.

To be sure, during normal times, international students are required (with limited exceptions) to attend live, in-person classes as a requirement of their student status.  But as we know, these are not normal times and this new rule is harsh and unnecessary.  Colleges and universities across the nation are struggling with whether, or how, to reopen their campuses and classrooms to students and faculty in a safe manner while trying to return to some sense of normalcy.  Harvard University, for example, has announced that its campus will reopen although all of its classes will be conducted online.  That decision, I am sure, was difficult and made after careful consideration of all options; however, this decision will now result in the inability of international students to study at Harvard this Fall semester.

Undeniably, the Trump Administration has pushed for a re-opening of society and return to normalcy despite an increase in Covid-19 infections and deaths in recent days and weeks across the nation.  And, it is also undeniable that the Trump Administration has used the Covid-19 pandemic as the basis to implement severe immigration restrictions. Now, through this new ICE rule, the Trump Administration is having colleges and universities do its bidding by forcing the impossible choice upon them: Open Your Classrooms or Say Goodbye to Foreign Students!  

Contact the Law Offices of Michael Kohler, PLLC with any questions about your F-1 or M-1 student status.

About the Author

Michael Kohler

Biography Prior to opening the Law Offices of Michael Kohler, PLLC in 2008, Michael served for 12 years as an attorney for the U.S. government. From 1996-97, Michael served as a Law Clerk for the Immigration Court in New York City. From 1997-2003, Michael was an Assistant District Counsel for th...


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