ST. LOUIS — Saint Louis University’s president told international students Wednesday they belong at the school.
The message comes as the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced temporary regulation changes to the Student and Exchange Visitor Program. These new regulations prevent international students studying in the U.S. from taking exclusively online classes.
“I speak for our entire University when I say to our international students: You are always welcome at SLU. Your cultures, perspectives, and lived experiences make our University a better place to live, work, learn and worship. You belong here. We want you here,” Saint Louis University President Fred P. Pestello said in the statement on the university’s website.
Pestello said while the university is planning for both online and in-person classes -- meaning its international students can likely stay -- change is possible.
“At some point during the fall term, universities –– SLU included –– could be forced to consider another pivot to online instruction. Under the new regulations, this pivot would require international students to return home,” Pestello said in part of the statement.
Wednesday morning, several high-profile universities challenge the ICE mandate in court. Pestello said Saint Louis University supports those efforts and it opposes decisions that limit access to higher education in the U.S.
Washington University said ICE's decision was a disappointment.
"We are hopeful that our students will not have their studies disrupted as we do not plan to offer online-only instruction in the fall," a statement read.
But some international students are worried nonetheless.
"This can change any minute, so we are not exempt of anything," said Washington University Ph.D. student Juan Ferreira, who is from Uruguay.
He said he's worried most about the uncertainty surrounding the scientific lab work many international students are doing not only in St. Louis but nationwide.
"I think the fact that this is eliminating some flexibility was really shocking because you have to deal with the health of the individuals and the institutions," said Betsy Cohen, executive director of the St. Louis Mosaic Project.
Cohen works to bring international talent to St. Louis. She said across the bi-state every year, about 9,000 international students every year contribute $250 million in economic value "from tuition to the apartments and cars and then the jobs they create."
And if those students had to leave, it would cost "a huge loss of economic power," she said.