New guidelines from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement will require international students to attend classes in person

SPIE strongly opposes the guidelines during the global COVID-19 pandemic
08 July 2020


On 14 July, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security rescinded this policy announcement.

On 6 July, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) issued new guidelines for international students studying in the United States that will require them to leave the country if their entire course load is online. The guidelines were released as universities are in the process of announcing their plans for the upcoming academic year, with many institutions opting for completely online to limit the spread of COVID-19.

These new guidelines are certain to negatively impact the optics and photonics community in the United States. Many of the students enrolled in optics and photonics fields of study at U.S. universities are international. These students will now have to choose between risking their health during a pandemic, changing schools, or going back to their home country. This decision is complicated even more so by the ongoing challenges of travel due to the pandemic.

SPIE supports policies that allow for the international mobility of scientists. Sharing knowledge and talent through collaboration has been core to scientific breakthroughs for over a century, and will continue to be vital to innovation across the sciences. Countries instituting policies that prevent, restrict, or discourage the movement of researchers put themselves at a disadvantage while also hindering scientific progress.

"These students represent some of the brightest the world has to offer, and they have chosen to come to the United States to learn and help continue a long tradition of technology and science advancement," said SPIE CEO Kent Rochford. "As we see the number of COVID-related cases rise, we must provide options that allow individuals to limit their exposure and slow the spread of this awful disease. There is no good reason to require students to be in a classroom during this time. Forcing these young leaders to leave the country could very likely have a significant impact on the future workforce for many key technologies areas and limit the United States’ ability to be a leader in areas crucial to economic and national security."

These guidelines come on the heels of an executive order issued on 22 June suspending H-1B and certain J-1 visas. SPIE is greatly concerned that the international community will see these actions as an unwelcome posture that could have long-term effects on the U.S. research and technology enterprise. SPIE will continue to advocate for policies that support the international exchange of science, technology, and engineering.

SPIE encourages all of its U.S.-based constituents to reach out to their elected representatives and ask for strong opposition to these guidelines. SPIE will continue to monitor the situation and keep constituents informed of changes and opportunities for action.

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