Open letter opposing change to the Student and Exchange Visitor Program

10 Jul 2020

WASHINGTON, July 9, 2020 — The American Chemical Society (ACS) has signed an open letter to the White House, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Department of State opposing modifications to temporary exemptions for the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP). Endorsed by dozens of scientific and education organizations, the letter expresses distress regarding the negative implications of this action issued by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) on U.S. universities and the broader global research and scientific enterprise. 

If implemented, the modifications would prohibit non-immigrant students from remaining in the U.S. if all fall 2020 semester classes at the institutions they attend are online only as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. This action could severely impact the nearly 1.6 million students currently in the U.S. under SEVP by causing vast numbers of students to potentially be deported. In 2018, 32% of master’s degrees and 36% of doctoral degrees in chemistry were awarded to students on non-immigrant visas, according to data from the National Science Foundation.

In addition to the loss of talent, the negative financial impact of the removal of these students from the U.S. will extend beyond the catastrophic effects on U.S. universities and research institutions from the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the NAFSA: Association of International Educators, international students studying at U.S. colleges and universities contribute $41 billion to the domestic economy and support more than 458,000 U.S. jobs. In fact, education is the fifth-largest service sector export for the U.S. Our nation cannot afford to have another crucial industry further weakened during the recovery process from the severe economic impacts of the pandemic.

The SEVP modifications are the latest in a series of actions taken by the administration to constrain immigration. ACS expressed similar concern in a June 23 statement regarding presidential proclamations suspending highly skilled workforce visas and limiting student visas for Chinese citizens. ACS strongly believes that the proposed SEVP modifications, combined with the previous proclamations, will have a chilling effect on the U.S.’s ability to attract the best minds from around the world. 

ACS stands ready to continue assisting the administration and Congress as the nation responds to and recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the cumulative impact of these recent executive and administrative actions will weaken the U.S. economy and the overall research enterprise.  
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