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UA: In-person instruction will be provided to let international students keep visas
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UA: In-person instruction will be provided to let international students keep visas

Tibet Gorener

Tibet Gorener is one of seven foreign-born players on Arizona’s men’s basketball roster for 2020-21.

The UA has moved to reassure international students and athletes that they will offer enough on-campus courses for them to retain student visas, giving its athletic department a sigh of relief.

In a move that shook up both college administrators and their athletic departments, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement authorities announced Monday that international students who attend schools that move entirely online this fall will not receive visas to stay in the United States.

ICE said those students must transfer to a school that offers on-campus classes, leave the country or “they may face immigration consequences including, but not limited to, the initiation of removal proceedings.”

The new guidelines mean schools risk missing out on what are often the full tuition payments of international students — and losing their international athletes — if they do not offer on-campus classes.

UA says of its roughly 46,000 students, about 8% (or 3,680) are international, and the percentage is considerably higher for many UA sports programs. Half of both the Wildcats’ men’s and women’s basketball rosters for 2020-21 are made up of international players, while the majority of UA’s men’s and women’s tennis players and women’s golfers are from outside the United States.

Jack Murphy, UA’s associate head men’s basketball coach, said he spoke Monday afternoon with other similarly affected coaches, such as UA women’s basketball coach Adia Barnes and UA women’s golf coach Laura Ianello.

Murphy said he also talked with many of UA’s incoming international players or those around them, including the coach of French forward Daniel Batcho, who called Murphy once he heard about the ICE guidelines. Batcho was one of six new international players the Wildcats signed in the spring.

The UA says it will offer in-person classes for its foreign students, including basketball player Daniel Batcho.

Murphy said he pointed them to a statement on the UA’s International Student Services website, which said the school has developed a range of in-person instruction plans to work under modified conditions because of the coronavirus.

Brent White, UA’s vice provost of global affairs, said in the statement that “regardless of whether the broader university is mostly online this fall, we are working to provide safe on-campus, in person courses for international students that will comply with Student Exchange and Visitor Information System requirements, so that you may remain in the country.”

White was unavailable for comment to offer more specifics but said in an email statement forwarded to the Star that UA would ensure all international students are able to take in-person classes, and that international graduate students would report in-person for their thesis, dissertation and research.

UA plans to offer a hybrid model of both online and on-campus courses this fall, although president Robert C. Robbins said on June 25 that he and his team would monitor conditions before deciding whether students would be allowed back for in-person classes this fall. The recent spike in Arizona’s coronavirus numbers have been concerning.

“If I had to say today would we would reopen, no, because … the ICUs are full,” Robbins said then. “We cannot have a situation where we’re bringing students back to campus, asking our faculty and staff to come back to campus when we’re in truly an exponential growth of the number of cases here.”

Other colleges around the nation, and their sports programs, have responded with some alarm to the ICE announcement.

“We understand that ICE’s new policy is creating uncertainty and stress for our community,” USC said in a statement. “Our international students are an important part of our USC family, and we’re working diligently on how to support them.”

At Gonzaga, where the powerhouse men’s basketball rosters are typically loaded with international players, longtime athletic director Mike Roth told the Spokane Spokesman-Review that he was “definitely” concerned.

“It’s causing lot of panic and concern among international students, student-athletes and our coaches,” Roth said, “and for plenty of ADs out there.”

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