Dear members of our Stanford community,

As many of you know, on Monday the federal government announced modifications to its rule for international students taking online courses in Fall 2020. The new rule would provide that nonimmigrant students cannot be physically attending universities in the United States if they are taking all of their courses online in Fall 2020. Under the rule, they will be given a student visa only if they will be taking some courses in person, and if they are here and the pandemic circumstances do not allow them to take an in-person course, they must either leave the United States or transfer to another university offering in-person courses.

I want to reiterate how strongly opposed we are to this rule, and how concerned we are about the negative effects it would have on Stanford’s international students, as well as on our entire community. The announcement of these changes came without warning, creating additional challenges for our international students in what is already a deeply uncertain time. Asking international students to transfer or leave the country – and, not to mention, to navigate the travel restrictions in place in many countries around the world, and to risk the possibility that they may not be able to return – is misguided and harmful.

Our international students are important members of our community, with unique perspectives that greatly enrich the learning environment for all. They deserve the chance to continue making progress toward their degrees. But actions like this don’t only harm international students: they damage university communities and impede our ability to educate future leaders, drive discovery and innovation, and fuel economic progress.

As we continue to assess this rule and work to support our students, I want to share with you additional actions we have taken and plan to take.

This afternoon, I sent a letter to the acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security to express our strong opposition to this order. The letter urges the department not to go forward with this rule and instead to extend the guidance offered this spring, which would allow international students to take online courses in the U.S. if that is the best we can offer. This more flexible rule also gives Stanford the ability to make reasoned decisions, in line with local and state guidance, to prioritize the health and welfare of all members of our campus community as we navigate the coronavirus pandemic. The letter to Acting Secretary Wolf can be read here.

In addition, we are joining our peer institutions in an amicus brief to support Harvard and MIT in a lawsuit filed today to prohibit enforcement of the new rules. The amicus brief will be filed shortly, pursuant to the court’s briefing schedule.

In this deeply uncertain time, we will continue working to support the education of all of our students, contribute to the research that is tackling the COVID-19 pandemic, and protect the health of our entire community. We are committed to supporting our international students through this difficult time. Students should reach out to the Bechtel International Center with immediate questions and concerns, and we will continue to update you as we assess this rule and work with the administration to establish fairer rules that support all students.

Marc Tessier-Lavigne