In response to the coronavirus outbreak in Washington state that has infected at least 70 and killed 11, Northeastern University will move to online instruction at its campus in Seattle on Monday, and the school’s president is asking the federal government not to revoke the visas of foreign students.
Joseph E. Aoun sent a letter Friday to Chad F. Wolf, acting secretary of the federal Department of Homeland Security, asking Wolf “to provide immediate relief to students holding F-1 visa status who . . . need to access courses online to minimize disease transmission and safeguard public health.”
Such student visas require in-person instruction and limit students’ ability to participate in online courses, Aoun said in the letter.
“Given the extraordinary circumstances required to protect public health, relief from the in-person learning requirements for F-1 international students at Northeastern in Seattle — and at higher education institutions around the country — is not only necessary to prevent disruption to students’ studies, but is also manifestly in the public interest as community spread of COVID-19 widens across the United States,” Aoun wrote. “Students should not be put in the difficult position of risking their health or jeopardizing their education.”
The Department of Homeland Security did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Friday afternoon. The department confirmed receipt of the letter to Northeastern but gave no response to its comments, according to university spokeswoman.
Northeastern has more than 700 students at its Seattle campus, about 60 percent of whom are in the United States on F-1 student visas, according to the university. Thousands of additional international students at Northeastern’s main campus in Roxbury and satellites in San Francisco and Charlotte could be affected if those sites are forced to cancel in-person classes.
In Aoun’s letter, he points to recommendations from city, county, and state officials in the Seattle area asking residents to avoid large gatherings and to work remotely. Northeastern is monitoring the situation on and around its other campuses and may cancel classes elsewhere if officials advise it, according to Renata Nyul, the university spokeswoman.
“We have concerns about what we are seeing in the San Francisco Bay area and are closely following the latest from public health officials,” Nyul said in an e-mail.