July 10, 2020

On July 6, 2020, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced that international students would no longer qualify for F-1 student visas and not be allowed to stay in the country if their college or university holds courses exclusively online this Fall. Their choices are either to transfer to another institution that provides in-person or hybrid instruction—or to leave the country and risk not being able to return, especially as embassies remain closed around the world. Students that do not comply would face deportation.

There are more than 1.09 million international students attending American colleges and universities. They not only bring unique perspective into the classroom, but also contribute an estimated $45 billion to the American economy—in tuition and supporting the economies of college towns across the country, according to the Institute of International Education (IIE) and the US Department of States Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. 

For art therapy students, this rule is particularly harsh. Few academic institutions offer art therapy programs, so students would be challenged to find an alternative program if the school they are currently enrolled in remains online in the fall. In addition, the art therapy profession itself is needed now more than ever as the mental health ramifications of the Coronavirus pandemic continue to grow—and our country faces a dire shortage of mental health care providers. Furthermore, the United States has long been a pioneer in the field of art therapy. Our art therapy programs educate and train over two thousand art therapists annually, many of whom go on to become mental health care providers and advocates in other countries. 

At a time when the United States is facing record numbers of COVID-19 cases, these students are grap-pling with an impossible choice between their health and their education. Regardless of how they decide to proceed, their education and career paths will be disrupted, not to mention their daily lives—adding even more stress and uncertainty as they deal with the physical and mental health ramifications of a global pandemic. For educators who don’t want to lose students, this new ruling may force them to open their on-campus classrooms for in-person instruction prematurely in order to maintain their student di-versity.

The American Art Therapy Association, and our members in the US and in 44 countries around the world, calls on the Trump Administration and ICE to reverse this ruling. International students currently enrolled in an academic institution should be able to take coursework online from the United States while their institutions decide on moving to in-person or hybrid models of instruction as and when safe and appropriate, rather than by ICE’s arbitrary deadline of August 1, 2020.