Standing Up for Our International Students


Standing Up for Our International Students

Stephen Mull

America’s higher education community faced a new challenge to our global mission this month with the announcement from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) that international students would be denied visas or face deportation if they did not participate in some in-person study this fall, regardless of public health guidelines aimed at curbing the spread of COVID-19. The new policy sent a chilling message to UVA’s almost 3,000 international students, who were already struggling with closed borders, international quarantine requirements, sharply reduced transportation options, and curtailed U.S. visa operations in their determined efforts to complete their education at UVA.

Within hours of the announcement of the new policy, University President Jim Ryan and Provost Liz Magill wrote to all of our international students to stress that the University would stand with them “essential part of our identity as a University and integral members of our community.”  The same day, all 12 UVA schools committed to guaranteeing all of our international students sufficient in-person instruction in order to avoid deportation.  The International Studies Office remained in close contact with our international students through virtual town hall meetings, phone calls, and e-mails to help them through the uncertainty. 

That was not all. UVA faculty members, staff, and students came together to launch a campaign to reverse the policy. University Counsel Tim Heaphy worked closely with the Attorney General of Virginia Mark Herring to prepare a lawsuit against the federal government seeking to block the policy – a suit that 17 other states and the District of Columbia also joined.

Our and other campaigns across the country worked.  On July 14, the U.S. government suddenly indicated it would drop the new policy and allow international students to retain their immigration status regardless of whether they were enrolled in in-person study.

Martin Luther King, Jr. famously addressed the brutal police assault on civil rights marchers in Selma in March 1965 with words that have echoed through the decades since.  “A man dies when he refuses to stand up for that which is right. A man dies when he refuses to stand up for justice. A man dies when he refuses to take a stand for that which is true.”  In that spirit, UVA was proud to stand up in defense of our international students. 

While it would have been better to not have to fight this battle, the swift response and support at every level validated UVA’s deep commitment to our global identity, and to our talented international students, researchers, and faculty who bring that identity to life every day on Grounds. 

While this will likely not be the last challenge for our global aspirations, our international community members can remain certain of this University’s steadfast support as we will always work to protect and honor their irreplaceable contributions to our community.

Ambassador Stephen Mull

Ambassador Stephen Mull is Vice Provost of Global Affairs.