Peninsula College officials welcome repeal of visa rule change

New international students still could face hurdles

Peninsula College President Luke Robins

Peninsula College President Luke Robins

PORT ANGELES — Peninsula College administrators momentarily cheered the news that the Trump administration had rescinded a plan to cancel visas for international students taking online-only courses, but they are wary of continued efforts to restrict or interfere with their educational opportunities.

“A ray of sunshine in what’s otherwise a pretty bleak situation,” Peninsula College President Luke Robins said of his reaction to Tuesday’s announcement of the change.

“If it had stood the way it was written, no matter what we would have done, we would have created a problem for our students.”

Colleges across the country were caught by surprise July 6 with the policy shift to bar international students from entering or remaining in the country if they are taking fully online courses, and they would risk forfeiting their student visas.

Peninsula College plans to offer predominately online-only options this fall with some in-person instruction for vocational courses.

Harvard and MIT filed the first of numerous lawsuits to block the plan, and on Tuesday, just before hearing arguments on the challenge by the two schools in federal court in Boston, Judge Allison D. Burroughs announced the Trump administration had agreed to repeal the policy.

The decision means the March decision by the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to allow international students to continue their studies remotely without affecting their visa status remains in place.

“I sent [associate dean of International Programs Sophia Illakis-Doherty] a little emoji that had tears of joy,” said Jack Huls, vice president of student services.

“It’s been absolutely fantastic to see so many people rally around this.”

More than 200 colleges signed briefs in support of the Harvard and MIT challenge, and the attorneys general of 20 states, including Washington’s Bob Ferguson, also filed suit, alleging the directive was reckless, cruel and senseless.

Huls said Peninsula College had joined 33 other community colleges across the state in signing an omnibus declaration of support for Ferguson’s suit.

First-time visas

However, it is unclear what Tuesday’s decision means for students who are applying for visas for the first time and whose classes may be entirely online.

“I was communicating with the state board of community and technical colleges today about Homeland Security still planning on restricting first-time visas for international students,” Huls said.

“We would see at least a 50-percent reduction in our international enrollment for the year, so we are preparing for the next battle.”

The college is looking at an estimated international enrollment of about 60 students this fall.

Illakis-Doherty said a potential nursing student from Poland has been unable to receive approval to attend college courses since the spring quarter.

“She had her visa but was deferred from attending because of COVID,” Illakis-Doherty said. “She was deferred from summer quarter because of restrictions on coming into the country. I just got word yesterday that the U.S. Embassy in Warsaw was going to reopen travel for international students.

“If this potential new rule comes into play, if it stands, she is a new student with a new visa on a new I-20 (a form that provides proof of enrollment at a U.S. college), and she would be deferred by who knows how long. Even though the directive has been pulled away, the gate is still blocked.

“The bottom line is, if these students are turned away, they will turn to different countries to pursue their educations.”

Illakis-Doherty said three students studying remotely from their home countries had expressed reservations about returning to the U.S. to study amid the pandemic. Those students are expected to continue studying via distance learning this fall.

Reversing course so rapidly also helped international students avoid further complicating their housing and living plans for fall quarter and beyond, and the college from a lose-lose situation.

“There is a silver lining in terms of this resolving itself quickly,” Robins said. “The speed of resolution was a blessing in terms of not forcing students or colleges to make decisions that would have been very difficult to backtrack from.”


Reporter Michael Carman can be contacted at 360-406-0674 or

More in News

Health warning lifted at East Beach on Marrowstone Island

Jefferson County Public Health has lifted the health warning from… Continue reading

Abby Counts, 8, with assistance from her father, Taylor Counts, an EMT with Clallam 2 Fire-Rescue, gives a newly acquired tender truck a ceremonial wash down during a push-in ceremony on Saturday at the district’s Station 22. The truck, tender 22, cost $459,439 and was paid for by the fire district’s 2020 levy lid lift. Saturday’s ceremony also included a blessing by the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe and a “push-in” of the truck into its berth. The tender replaces a 31-year-old truck that had reached the end of its useful life. (Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News)
New tender

Abby Counts, 8, with assistance from her father, Taylor Counts, an EMT… Continue reading

The 95 Port Townsend High School seniors walk through the rhody garden at Fort Worden State Park on their way to the graduation ceremony on Friday. (Steve Mullensky/for Peninsula Daily News)
Graduation walk

Port Townsend, Chimacum ceremonies

Lands commissioner wary of federal plan to kill thousands of owls

Washington’s public lands commissioner, Hilary Franz, is voicing skepticism about a federal… Continue reading

Operations scheduled at Bentinck range this week

The land-based demolition range at Bentinck Island will be… Continue reading

Weekly flight operations scheduled

There will be field carrier landing practice operations for aircraft… Continue reading

Matt Larson of Sequim, who uses the radio call sign KC7EQO, tunes into a ham radio satellite during Saturday’s Radio Field Day at the Clallam County Fairgrounds in Port Angeles. The annual event, hosted by the Clallam County Amateur Radio Club, brought together amateur radio operators from around the world in a contest to make as many radio contacts as possible in a 24-hour period as a test of emergency preparedness from remote locations. (Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News)
Testing the system

Matt Larson of Sequim, who uses the radio call sign KC7EQO, tunes… Continue reading

Best of the Peninsula.
Voting round open for Best of Peninsula contest

It’s time again to vote for the Best of the Peninsula. Now… Continue reading

Port of Port Townsend focusing on five capital improvement projects

Stormwater improvement in permitting phase; construction may begin this year

Clallam County Sheriff Brian King, right, carries a ceremonial torch with Special Olympian William Sirguy, center, accompanied by his mother, Katie Sirguy, during Friday’s Special Olympics Law Enforcement Torch Run along the Waterfront Trail in Port Angeles. The event, designed to raise awareness and funds for the Special Olympics movement, brought together law enforcement officers from Clallam, Jefferson and Kitsap counties for a march across the North Olympic Peninsula. (Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News)
Torch run

Clallam County Sheriff Brian King, right, carries a ceremonial torch with Special… Continue reading

Groups back natural gas initiative

Signature-gathering efforts end July 5

Pictured left to right, Ginny Wagner, Xxzavyon (XJ) Square, Ewan Mordecai-Smith, Elise Sirguy, Mahayla Amendolare and Mallory Hartman cut the ribbon of the little free library at Jefferson Elementary School on Friday. (Darlene Cook)
Students come together to promote reading literacy

Free library constructed near Jefferson Elementary