US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced on Monday that international students will not be allowed to remain in the country if the college or university they are enrolled in is offering online-only classes for the Fall semester.
The new guidelines state that students on F-1 or M-1 visas will be required to either transfer to another school with in-person classes or return to their native countries. Students who fail to adhere to these rules will be subject to deportation.
The US State Department will no longer issue visas to international students enrolled in online courses, and ICE will no longer allow these students to enter the country. Students who are already in the US will be forced to leave.
Schools will be required to “update their information in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) within 10 days of the change if they begin the fall semester with in-person classes but are later required to switch to only online classes, or a nonimmigrant student changes their course selections, and as a result, ends up taking an entirely online course load.”
These guidelines come as more and more universities across the country are announcing that they will be delivering course instruction online due to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.
Harvard University’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences announced its plan to operate at less than half capacity on Monday, bringing only 40% of the student population back to campus for the Fall semester. The rest of the student body will attend classes online.
While ICE has not provided an explanation or justification for these new rules, there is no doubt that they will negatively impact both students and universities.
Colleges and universities across the nation heavily rely on tuition dollars from international students, since they generally pay full rates. Students on M-1 and F-1 visas currently make up around 5.5% of all college students in the country.
During the 2018–2019 academic year, there were approximately 1.1 million international students taking classes in the US.
Not to mention, these guidelines will make it more difficult for students to complete their degrees. Returning back home or transferring to another school will ultimately delay their studies and harm the universities they are being forced to leave. And for some students, returning to their native countries might not be possible or even safe.
The Student Visitor and Exchange Program issued an exemption in the spring allowing international students to take more online courses because of the pandemic, so for ICE to backpedal now means this has less to do with COVID-19 and more to do with the current administration’s crackdown on immigration.
Just last month, President Trump signed an executive order curtailing legal immigration. While the executive order — which targeted employment-based visas — was also signed due to the extenuating circumstances posed by COVID-19, opponents of the directive claimed it was just another attempt to eliminate legal immigration altogether.
Regardless of the motive behind the new guidelines, they will undoubtedly take a significant toll on thousands of universities across the country and upwards of over one million international students and their families.