On July 6, SEVP announced a new policy that states that F-1 and M-1 international students attending schools operating entirely online may not take a full online course load and remain in the United States. This ruling completely disregards the very intentional decisions based on public health and scientific expertise that colleges and universities have made about their reopening plans to safeguard the health of their students, faculty, and staff during the COVID19 pandemic.
We, the HALI Access Network, an association of 42 non-profit organizations and schools in Africa working with over 2000 high-achieving, low-income students annually to access international higher education opportunities, condemn this recent ICE/SEVP discrimination against international student visa holders. We advocate for continued support for international students currently in the United States, as well as those admitted to enroll in Fall 2020. We stand in support of the lawsuit filed by Harvard and MIT and joined by many other universities, to challenge these discriminatory and unlawful policies in their pursuit of a fair and compassionate approach to international student learning amidst a global pandemic. As a network, we are especially concerned for the vulnerability of our students who, while a part of the larger international student community, face distinct barriers to their education.
Requiring students to return to their home countries jeopardizes their ability to continue with their education. As we have rediscovered this year, access to online learning is not equitable. In a survey of our member organizations this week, we asked whether their HALI students would be able to successfully complete online courses from home. Roughly 60% of responding organizations said their students would not be able to successfully continue with remote education if sent home from the United States. The remaining 40% said their students might be able to continue if provided adequate financial support to overcome the challenges of online study. The barriers for HALI students are many, ranging from lack of consistent access and cost of wifi, data, and electricity; time zone differences that would put classes in the middle of the night; lockdown restrictions in home countries that would prevent access to wifi; lack of access to a laptop or device; no quiet place to study when sharing a home with many people; and family responsibilities, especially for girls, which are part of daily living when at home.
Although HALI students study on full scholarships, there are many hidden costs that they cover through on-campus work or extended family contributions, and they often live on a very tight budget while students. The additional costs from these new policies, such as unexpected flight tickets and data and wifi costs while home, could prevent students from being able to return to colleges when given the green light to do so. To put things in perspective, for some HALI students the cost of purchasing enough data to attend a one hour Zoom class can be as much as their family earns in one week. For students in Africa, 1GB of internet can cost even 26% of their family’s monthly average income.
The vast majority of HALI organizations also indicated that their students who are currently home would likely not be able to travel to the United States on a student visa until January 2021 because of current U.S. Embassy closures, with 60% also reporting currently closed borders. Despite the surge of COVID19, events of 2020 in the United States, and this new policy directly attacking international students, the majority of organizations reported that their students are still eager to pursue their higher education in the United States. While there is a general mixture of fear, anxiety, and confusion amongst our community, our students still largely believe that the quality of colleges and universities in the United States will provide opportunities that will benefit them in their future pursuits and endeavors.
We, the HALI Access Network, believe that our students, who are among the brightest scholars on the African continent despite growing up facing extreme economic barriers, deserve to continue their education uninterrupted, abiding by the public health decisions that their universities have so carefully made. The success of American higher education hinges upon the open and diverse exchange of ideas. This dialogue can only exist through welcoming people with different experiences, cultural backgrounds, academic training, talents, and viewpoints. Our HALI students are each unique contributors, and universities continuously praise and celebrate the impact they make in the classroom, in residence halls, in student life, in the places universities call home, and in the pursuit of solutions to address some of the greatest challenges in our world. We find this new SEVP policy to be cruel and unjust and advocate for its reversal. We urge our friends and colleagues in the United States to continue to advocate for the just and empathetic treatment of all students during this difficult time and to consider the unique needs of HALI and other low-income international students affected by this policy.
If you stand for the rights of HALI students and want to continue to hear their voices and perspectives, please follow us at @haliaccess on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook, where we will continue to showcase stories and updates from our member organizations. To learn more about our individual organizations and the populations we work with, please visit our membership directory or reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Signed by the Members of the HALI Access Network
Abaarso School of Science and Technology
African Leadership Academy
African Science Academy
Aga Khan Academy Mombasa
Canada Mathare Education Trust
East Africa Education & Social Empowerment
Education for All Children
Education Matters/USAP Community School
Gashora Girls Academy/Rwanda Girls Initiative
Klesis Educational Initiative
M-Pesa Foundation Academy
Our Moon Education
Rainbows for Children
The School of St. Jude
The Knowledge Institute Eswatini
Tujenge Africa Foundation
UWC East Africa
UWC Waterford Kamhlaba
Yale Young African Scholars
Photo credit: Yale Young African Scholars (YYAS) at Arundel School, Zimbabwe teaching HALI students about SATs