Gophers athletes voiced concerns this week over strict new federal guidelines potentially forcing some foreign students to leave the U.S. during the coronavirus pandemic.
The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced Monday that visas would not be issued to nonimmigrant students enrolled in online-only school this fall — meaning those students would have to return to their home country or transfer to schools with in-person classes.
University of Minnesota President Joan Gabel e-mailed her faculty, students and staff Tuesday to address any fears, reminding them of the university’s plan for a hybrid model of online and in-person classes this fall.
“We stand with our international students,” Gabel wrote.
With 18 of 23 sports on Minnesota’s campus having international athletes — including Benjamin St. Juste and Daniel Faalele (football), Isaiah Ihnen (basketball) and Sampo Ranta (hockey) — this was an issue that drew immediate attention from the Gophers.
The university announced a plan in June for students to be back to campus in some form for classes on Sept. 8 with in-person instruction finished by Thanksgiving. With uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus, though, there are many schools throughout the country already focusing on fall semesters mostly online, including the California State University system.
Ihnen, a Germany native and Richard Pitino’s top recruit last year, posted “Wow” on Instagram along with an article about ICE possibly kicking thousands of students out of the U.S.
Not having international students would shake up certain Gophers sports more than others. The men’s and women’s track and field teams have a combined 15 athletes from outside the U.S. The men’s and women’s tennis teams have 11 of their 17 players from foreign countries.
Ranta, a Finland native, is one of the men’s hockey team’s most talented players. He is still at home after finishing the spring semester online. The Gophers’ starting goalie, Jack LaFontaine, hails from Canada.
Other prominent international Gophers athletes include All-America diver Joy Zhu from China, All-America golfer Angus Flanagan from England, and track standouts Devia Brown (All-America thrower) and Janielle Josephs (Big Ten Freshman of the Year) from Jamaica.
P.J. Fleck has five foreign players on his Gophers football roster, including St. Juste (Canada) and Faalele (Australia), who are both starters. Gophers women’s basketball coach Lindsay Whalen is expecting to rely heavily on French post player Kadi Sissoko, a 6-2 transfer from Syracuse.
Pitino tapped into recruiting foreign talent by bringing in Ihnen, Marcus Carr (Canada) and David Mutaf (Turkey). Ihnen is on campus but Pitino is still waiting for Carr to return and decide to stay or remove his name from the NBA draft.
Mutaf, who signed to join the U’s freshman class this spring, continues to talk to the coaching staff about when he can fly to Minnesota this summer.
“Don’t have an idea what’s going to happen,” Mutaf told the Star Tribune. “I still don’t know when I can come there because flights are still closed. … I’m working every day and staying ready.”