Two people walk through Willamette University on May 15. 2020. (Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)

Willamette University will have significantly fewer international students when classes resume in the fall whether or not a Trump administration rule limiting international student visas announced this week goes into effect.

Kris Lou, director of Willamette’s Office of International Education, said a stop in visa processing at U.S. embassies around the world and travel restrictions many countries have imposed on the U.S. mean no more than about 30 international students will be on campus this fall.

Under normal circumstances, Willamette’s student body includes about 200 to 250 students from other countries, about 8% of the total.

The university’s American Studies program, a partnership with Tokyo International University, brings about 100 Japanese students to campus each year, but was put on hold when Willamette stopped in-person classes in March. Those students won’t return to campus in the fall, Lou said.

Other study abroad programs that bring foreign students to Willamette for a semester or year have also been cancelled because of health concerns.

Left on campus will be just a handful of international students completing a degree at Willamette, Lou said.

On Monday, the Trump administration announced a new rule that would strip international college and university students of visas if their schools conduct all-online classes in the fall.

The number of international students attending U.S. universities has increased substantially in the last decade, with many universities recruiting those students as a way to increase revenue. International students typically pay full tuition, offsetting financial aid costs for other students.

The rules were met with swift pushback from many larger universities, with Harvard and M.I.T. mounting a lawsuit Wednesday to stop the rule from going into effect.

In theory, the proposed rule wouldn’t impact Willamette, which is planning to offer in-person classes in the fall. But that plan is dependent on Marion County and Oregon’s ability to keep the spread of the coronavirus under control.

Lou said it’s unclear how the rules might apply if Willamette has to switch to all-remote classes midway through the semester or temporarily for several weeks in response to an outbreak on campus. He said the rules could be interpreted as requiring all international students to either leave campus or transfer to another university offering in-person classes.

“There’s all kinds of scenarios that point to grey areas or ambiguity,” he said.

Lou said the rule prompted questions from Willamette’s returning international students. His office is meeting with deans of the university’s colleges to look at those students’ planned schedules on a case-by-case basis and make sure they won’t run afoul of the guidelines if they do go into effect.

But regardless, he said the number of international students applying to attend Willamette has dropped “because of concern about the virus and concern about how poorly the U.S. is handling the virus,” Lou said.

Willamette typically has students from Japan, China, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, India and a variety of European countries. Countries around the world have barred entry for U.S. citizens and discouraged their own citizens from travel to the U.S.

U.S. embassies abroad stopped processing student visas months ago, Lou said, meaning many international students interested in attending Willamette never completed an application.

Guest lecturers and faculty who typically come to campus from other countries have also had trouble securing visas, Lou said. In a normal year, the university helps five to 10 scholars get visas for lectures or teaching visits of several weeks to a year or longer.

Willamette students will not be able to study abroad in the fall, though the university is planning for spring study abroad to go on as planned.

Lou said his office is exploring virtual ways to bring more international connections to the classroom, including video visits with students at partner universities who are studying the same topic.

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Contact reporter Rachel Alexander: [email protected] or 503-575-1241.