New ICE proposal compounds anxiety for international students, advocates

The proposal is among a long list of changing rules that international students have contended with in recent months.


Audrey Rauth

University of Minnesota’s International Student and Scholar Services office sits empty on Thursday, Oct. 8. All office services have been moved online and over the phone due to COVID-19 protocols.

Jasmine Snow, City Reporter

The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement published a rigid proposal on a visa restriction rule for international students late last month — creating fear, outrage and anxiety for many in the University of Minnesota community.

ICE’s proposed rule would shorten international student visas to a maximum of four years and restrict the reapplication considerations for those who would file for extensions.

The four-year limit, shorter than the duration of some education tracks, would mean that some of the international students — who make up about 8% of the University’s undergraduate population — may need to file for an extension midway through their college experience.

This comes as another blow to international students and their advocates, especially following more recent ICE activity to remove international students without in-person classes, which was eventually rescinded.

“They’re nervous,” said the University’s Immigration Response Team director, Marissa Hill-Dongre. “They’re feeling like these restrictions make it a lot more difficult to be here, and that makes them wonder whether they’re welcome here or not. They’re feeling worried about making plans for the future. … They’re feeling tired.”

Like many other international students, third-year marketing student Duong Thuy Nguyen has been struggling with the many challenges that accompany her decision to study virtually from Vietnam. She said the new proposal — on top of the rules and reversals of this summer — have dramatically added to that stress.

“It has been undoubtedly a stressful time because our education was at stake,” Nguyen said in an email to the Minnesota Daily. “ICE really had us turned upside down several times because its rulings and proposals directly affect our student status and our path to graduation. … [I]t was heartbreaking to acknowledge that so many students would be in trouble.”

Students are also concerned about their post-graduation career plans and ability to stay in the country.

“[T]he Trump administration has been issuing a variety of proposals that make
it harder for international students to stay in the US, whether to extend our education or
work legally after graduation,” said fourth-year Minh Dang in an email to the Minnesota Daily. “All of those changes have been discouraging for me as an international student and young professional.”

Now, the COVID-19 pandemic and the political climate have caused Dang to seriously reconsider her education.

“I feel very uncertain about my future,” Dang wrote in the email. “A lot of the certainty about our immigrant status and rights as international students have been challenged … Before COVID, I had high hopes of finding a job in the US after I graduate, but now I’m not so sure.”

The proposal is open for a 30-day public comment period, and the University shared with the Department of Homeland Security that it had “significant concerns” with the proposal, according to an all-campus email sent Wednesday.

“The proposed rule creates undue restrictions for international students, makes their path to advanced degrees and subsequent learning opportunities more difficult, and will jeopardize our ability to attract students in the future,” read part of President Joan Gabel’s submitted letter in opposition to the proposal.

Other University offices are still working with international students to help them navigate the constantly fluctuating rules.

“All hope is not lost,” said Hill-Dongre. “You have to be more creative than in the past. And it might be more difficult, but there are still paths to employment in the U.S., even in these difficult times.”

Resource links:

Jane Sitter, international career consultant in the Office for Student Affairs, and others across the University have been working since the beginning of the pandemic to help students navigate their options. Below are some of the many resources available to international students:

ISSS Weekly Update
Major Exploration 101 for International Students Workshop on Oct. 15 and Oct. 27
Career Services page for international students