The University of Nebraska on Monday joined 180 other universities opposing a new policy to ban or remove international students from the country if their college classes were held exclusively online because of the coronavirus pandemic.
NU joined an amicus brief in a lawsuit filed by Harvard University and MIT against the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Department of Homeland Security, which announced the new guidance earlier this month.
As the coronavirus began spreading in the U.S. in March, forcing colleges and universities to move classes online for the remainder of the semester, ICE waived requirements that allowed students on F-1 and M-1 visas to take no more than one class online.
In its push for students to return for in-person instruction this fall, the Trump administration announced last week it was reinstating that rule, despite plans by many colleges and universities for online or hybrid class environments beginning this fall.
President Ted Carter said while NU is intending to hold on-campus and in-person classes this fall, the university joined other institutions, including most of the Big Ten Conference, as a show of support for its international students.
"International students contribute enormously to the academic, cultural, social and economic fabric of our campuses and communities," Carter said in a statement. "Our university, our state and our country are immeasurably enriched by their presence.
"We join colleagues across the country in hoping that these valued students will be provided as much flexibility as possible during a time of crisis," he added.
Last year, there were approximately 4,100 international students attending NU's campuses in Lincoln, Omaha and Kearney, although the number of students coming to Nebraska from around the world has been slipping.
After hitting a high of 1,272 students in 2016-17, the number of Chinese students attending UNL fell last fall by 20%, or 233 students, amid ongoing tensions between the U.S. and Asia.
UNL also said attendance by students from countries such as Malaysia, Oman, Saudi Arabia and Iran was also declining after years of increases.
In an email earlier this summer, UNL Chancellor Ronnie Green said the university anticipates international student enrollment could drop by another 25% this year because of the ongoing pandemic.
The loss of international students also impacts NU's bottom line. Those students pay out-of-state tuition costs and do not qualify for financial aid. Nearly 90% of UNL's anticipated tuition revenue losses stem from declining international enrollment, Green said.
Those students also provide an economic boost to the state, the Institution of International Education found in its "Open Doors" report. In 2019, international students contributed an estimated $177 million to Nebraska's economy.
After last week's announcement by the Trump administration, NU's four student body presidents — Roni Miller of UNL, Jabin Moore of UNO, Tom Schroeder of UNMC and Max Beal of UNK — said in a joint statement the foreign students living, studying and working in Nebraska had their "full and united support."
"We want these students — our friends and classmates — to know that they are deeply valued members of the university family, who enrich our campus communities, add great value to the academic experience and contribute significantly to our local economies," the statement said.
Carter said he and NU's campus chancellors would continue to do "all we can" to support international students studying in Nebraska.
"We are fortunate to have them as part of our university family," he said.
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