July 7, 2020

Amherst College Seal Yesterday afternoon, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced changes to the Student and Exchange Visitor Program for non-immigrant students on F-1 and M-1 visas for academic and vocational study. The changes would force international students to leave the country or transfer to an institution offering in-person classes if their colleges and universities are offering classes entirely online during the fall semester. We are baffled by what we consider a terrible decision, and we condemn it. The announcement goes so far as to suggest that if institutions offering a mix of in-person and remote classes go completely remote during the semester, international students would then have to leave the United States.

Because Amherst will offer a combination of in-person and remote-learning opportunities, we can and will have our international students on campus and enrolled in classes that involve in-person teaching and learning. However, many institutions have decided to teach only remotely. It makes no sense whatsoever to have international students penalized because institutions have made the best possible decisions regarding the health and safety of their campuses in a pandemic. The inability to predict the course of the pandemic also means that colleges and universities across the country may have to move all classes online at some point. The action announced yesterday will also jeopardize the ability of international students to pursue professional opportunities during and immediately following their education; these opportunities are a core part of what an Amherst education offers.

While many of our international students have remained on campus, others have not. Those who were able to return to their homes abroad and our new international students were already facing the problem of obtaining visas to study on campus this fall, given the closing of embassies around the world because of the pandemic. We cannot overstate the importance of accelerating visa decisions and will continue to advocate for that acceleration as part of our effort to help these students reach our campus. Amherst is part of the Presidents’ Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration, a coalition of institutions that is dedicated to advocating for international and undocumented students who wish to study on our campuses. The Alliance is helping identify potential solutions to some of these challenges.

We will do everything we can, within the confines of the law, to help our international students persist in their studies at Amherst, an opportunity they have rightly earned. Their presence enhances the education of every other student and helps create the intellectual and social vibrancy that makes Amherst what it is. Their contributions extend far beyond our campuses to the rest of this society. We will continue working to understand the full implications of these changes, to provide good information so our students can make fully informed decisions, and to identify the forms of support available to our international students who wish to return to campus. In the meantime, we will continue to execute on our plan to offer fall classes in a hybrid mode, to welcome a significant number of students back to campus this fall, and to offer a rich mix of in-person and remote teaching.