Wisconsin can’t afford to lose thousands of foreign students from its campuses, especially those attending UW-Madison.
International students pay steep tuition, which helps hold down the cost of college for Wisconsin residents. Many foreign students also stay here after graduation, filling high-demand jobs in science, technology, engineering and math. Some even start successful companies that employ hundreds of people.
Wisconsin’s congressional delegation must unify against any attempt by the Trump administration to needlessly force international students to leave Wisconsin if universities here can’t offer in-person classes because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Federal guidance from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency suggests foreign students will have to attend at least one class in person to maintain their legal status here. Given how serious the health risk to students, professors and others on campus could be in the coming months if COVID-19 cases continue to rise, the Trump administration shouldn’t be pressuring American universities to offer in-person classes if school administrators don’t think they can do so safely. The Trump administration’s threat to deport international students is reckless and irresponsible, and will hurt our economy.
Hopefully, all University of Wisconsin System campuses will be able to offer in-person classes this fall. UW System’s goal is to give students the option of learning in classrooms or online. And on Thursday, interim UW System President Tommy Thompson said he’s confident the System’s 8,800 international students will get to stay. Even if an entire campus offers online courses only, Thompson said, other campuses in the System will still offer in-person options, which should satisfy federal requirements.
We hope he’s right.
Thompson last week responsibly called for mandatory face masks inside all campus buildings to help keep the virus at bay. The UW Board of Regents wisely and unanimously endorsed face masks Thursday. Dane County also is requiring its residents to cover their faces when inside public spaces and businesses.
That should help keep our economy — and schools — open.
But so much is still unknown about the potentially deadly disease that federal officials shouldn’t be boxing in universities with strict government mandates.
UW-Madison alone has close to 6,000 international students. That’s a lot of potential business leaders and innovators who might be forced to leave if the Trump administration follows through with its narrow-minded policies.
Wisconsin is hardly alone. Nationally, more than 1 million foreign students are enrolled in colleges across the United States.
Congress must ensure our campuses can keep and nurture that talent — not toss contributors out because the president wants to look tough on immigration during a difficult election. UW-Madison must be flexible, too.
The goal should be healthy students seeking innovation on state campuses — the best and brightest young people from across Wisconsin and from around the globe.
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