Soka Will Co-Sign Letter to Congress Pushing Back on Changes to International Student Visa Program

July 10, 2020
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Soka's lily pond courtyard

Soka University of America further clarified Friday its response to changes in the federal program for international student visas. In an email to the Soka community, Executive Vice President Ed Feasel said that SUA is supporting and joining efforts by other higher education institutions to push back against the new regulations that would force international students taking online-only classes in the fall to leave the country.

Many education leaders nationwide have expressed grave concerns about the timing and direction of the changes in the Department of Homeland Security’s Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP, as well how it presents inconsistent guidance in accordance with guidelines provided by the US Centers for Disease Control and the California Department of Public Health.

Harvard and MIT have filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration and a similar suit by the California State universities and the UC system appears to be imminent.

“We are hopeful that this growing outcry of support against this new guidance will help work towards an injunction that will lead to an overturning of the new rule,” Feasel wrote in the email.

Soka University will also sign onto an American Council on Education letter to Congress asking the Department of Homeland Security to withdraw the guidance and allow flexibility for institutions and students.

“The letter also asks Congress to take swift legislative action to protect the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) status of any international students if DHS is unwilling to withdraw the problematic guidance,” Feasel wrote. “I will also personally be sending letters to our senators and local US Congressional representatives requesting similar support from them.”

While the health and well-being of the Soka community continues to be a top priority, the university is continuing to investigate options to help support international students who are affected. The policy puts the university in a difficult position in that its decision to offer online-only instruction as a precaution against spreading the coronavirus could harm international students by exposing them to deportation.

Some impacted students may want to return to their home countries immediately given these new developments. Feasel asked the Office of Financial Aid to develop a process for providing additional financial assistance, depending on students’ financial need, for travel for international students who want to return home. The concrete process for applying for these funds will be communicated to these students as soon as possible.

Soka is also considering the possibility of limited hybrid instruction for international students to work within the new federal guidelines. However, there is not enough clarity on the new requirements, and state and local officials have not issued guidance for how to safely offer in-person education. Soka will continue monitoring the situation and discussing possible actions as requirements become clearer. The potential limited hybrid offering would not include on-campus housing. Soka will share further developments as they become available.

“We want to reaffirm our commitment to our community, that we are doing all that we can to provide options within our reach,” Feasel wrote. “We appreciate your support and patience as we continue to work through this challenging moment in time.”