July 10, 2020

The biological sciences research and education community is deeply concerned by the July 6, 2020, guidance from United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) that would force international students to leave the country if they do not participate in in-person instruction during the fall 2020 semester. The new ICE guidance should be rescinded immediately.

At a time when the United States has recognized the importance of safeguarding and strengthening our bioeconomy and protecting our intellectual property, one must ask: Why is the Administration implementing policy that will weaken the United States by forcing the world's best and brightest science, technology, engineering, and mathematics students to contribute their intellectual and economic capital to our global competitors?

In addition to jeopardizing public health and safety by ignoring the continuing rapid spread of the SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) virus in communities across the United States, this policy causes additional economic harm to individuals, communities, and colleges across the country. It threatens the long-term competitiveness of the U.S. scientific, technological, engineering, mathematics, and medicine (STEMM) enterprise. It needlessly adds additional stress, complexity, and economic burden to individual students who will have their lives further disrupted.

While all sectors of the United States economy, including higher education institutions, are working to identify responsible strategies for invigorating the economy during an on-going global health crisis, this policy punishes students and educational institutions for behaving responsibly. As we sadly continue to see in communities across the country, premature and poorly planned re-openings are contributing to rapid increases in COVID-19, and ultimately infusing additional risk and uncertainty into the economy. To effectively mandate that universities across the nation, regardless of local needs and institutional capacity, provide and then require students to participate in in-person instruction this fall is irresponsible and dangerous.

The United States has long welcomed students from around the world. These students contribute greatly to the United States, including our economic development. Foreign students are not a drain on our economy or our educational institutions. The undergraduate, graduate, and professional students who study in the United States generated $41 billion and supported more than 458,000 jobs in the 2018-19 academic year. These benefits are enjoyed by communities across the nation - from small, rural college towns to our urban centers.

Students forced to leave the United States because they and/or their academic institutions have determined the responsible course of action for the fall semester is to engage in mostly online instruction, may opt to continue their studies in another country. This is a lost opportunity for the United States. It also threatens our global competitiveness and leadership in STEMM. United States research and development has long been the envy of the world because we welcome individuals from around the globe. Their participation in U.S. educational programs strengthens our STEMM fields and makes our nation more competitive. This policy further weakens our ability to recruit the best STEMM students who may instead elect to study in China or Europe.

This guidance should be rescinded. Foreign students should be allowed to remain in the US and to complete courses in person, online, or in a hybrid fashion based on the needs and best judgement of their academic institutions and their own personal circumstances.


American Institute of Biological Sciences
American Fern Society
American Society for Gravitational and Space Research
American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists
American Society of Mammalogists
American Society of Naturalists
American Society of Plant Taxonomists
American Society of Primatologists
Animal Behavior Society
Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation
Association of Ecosystem Research Centers
BioQUEST
Botanical Society of America
Field Museum of Natural History
International Association for Bear Research and Management
Missouri Botanical Garden
Mycological Society of America
Natural History Museum of Utah
Natural Science Collections Alliance
New England Association of Parasitologists
Organization of Biological Field Stations
Sitka Sound Science Center
Society for Economic Botany
Society for Freshwater Science
Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology
Society for Mathematical Biology
Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections
Society for the Study of Amphibians and Reptiles
Society for the Study of Evolution
Society of Nematologists
Society of Systematic Biologists
The Helminthological Society of Washington
University of Connecticut Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
University of Kansas Biodiversity Institute

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