SIAM News Blog

SIAM’s Statement on the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency’s Visa Announcement

Update 7/14/20: Today, the Trump Administration rescinded these proposed rules on foreign students studying online, returning to the previous status quo. Thank you to all of the SIAM members who reached out to your representatives in Congress over the last week!

On Monday, July 6, 2020 the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE) announced that it would remove its current, temporary exemptions on F-1 and M-1 visas. The removal of the exemptions would mean that any student on student visas who are not taking at least some classes in person will cease to be in compliance. Students enrolled in colleges or universities that will move their fall classes online for safety of their community would be forced to either transfer to another institution where they must take classes in person or leave the country. It also means that foreign students accepted for fall at institutions with virtual classes would not be granted visas to enter the U.S.

Hundreds of thousands of students would be affected by this policy.

In addition, this change in visa policy might force universities to make hard decisions about opening in-person classes, which could place faculty at risk for infections.

Together with fellow educational and scientific societies, SIAM has signed this joint letter to the White House, Department of Homeland Security, and Department of State opposing the policy change.

For now, members of our community who wish to weigh in on this policy change are encouraged to contact their representatives in Congress. Below is a draft letter that can be used when contacting representatives in Congress. To find out who represents you in Congress, visit Contact information for your Senate delegation can be found here:

SIAM is committed to protecting our members, including our international students. We will keep you informed about further developments.

Draft Letter to Congress Representatives:

Dear Representative/Senator [name],

I write to you as a member of the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics (SIAM) and the broader research community, and a resident of [town/city in the district/state], to voice my opposition to the changes announced by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) given the negative impact they would have on many academic institutions and many of the estimated 1.6 million students currently enrolled in the program.

The changes to SEVP implemented by ICE would prohibit non-immigrants pursuing academic and vocational coursework from remaining in the U.S. if their college or university has shifted to full online courses in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Since remote learning may be the only option for many universities, and given existing challenges in visa accessibility, this change would likely force a large number of these students to disrupt their studies and leave the U.S. with no clear path or timeline for returning.

Non-immigrant visa programs enable the best and brightest undergraduate, graduate, and vocational students from around the world to contribute to scientific advancement in the U.S. In fact, international students comprise a majority of doctoral candidates in a number of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields. For example, of the new doctorates in the mathematical sciences earned at U.S. institutions during the 2016-2017 academic year, 46 percent of those awarded at large and medium-sized public institutions went to candidates from outside of the U.S. At all other PhD-granting institutions, including at all large private schools, the majority of doctoral degrees in mathematics were issued to foreign students. Many of these students elect to stay in the U.S. following graduation to contribute their talents to the domestic high-tech industry or help drive cutting edge research, representing a key competitive advantage for our nation.

[Not required, but the writer may wish to insert their own anecdote about their experience with international students or the importance of international students to their institution.]

With these considerations in mind, I urge you to oppose the Administration’s decision to implement these changes to SEVP. Furthermore, I urge you to work to ensure that any policies implemented in the interest of safeguarding the public do not cause undue harm to international students—especially in the midst of a major health crisis—or jeopardize the research enterprise that underpins U.S. economic vitality.

[Constituent’s Name]

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