Foreign students will need to leave US if their institutes switch to online-only classes due to coronavirus

Active students currently in the US enrolled in fully online programs will have to leave or take other measures, such as transferring to a school with in-person instruction to remain in lawful status


                            Foreign students will need to leave US if their institutes switch to online-only classes due to coronavirus
(Getty Images)

International students will not be allowed to stay in the US if the college or university in which they have enrolled switches to online-only courses this fall due to the coronavirus pandemic. Those who fail to comply with the rules will risk deportation, according to an announcement made by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). 

“The Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) announced modifications Monday to temporary exemptions for nonimmigrant students taking online classes due to the pandemic for the fall 2020 semester. Nonimmigrant F-1 and M-1 students attending schools operating entirely online may not take a full online course load and remain in the US,” says the ICE statement.

“The US Department of State will not issue visas to students enrolled in schools and/or programs that are fully online for the fall semester nor will US Customs and Border Protection permit these students to enter the US. Active students currently in the US enrolled in such programs must depart the country or take other measures, such as transferring to a school with in-person instruction to remain in lawful status. If not, they may face immigration consequences including, but not limited to, the initiation of removal proceedings,” the statement warns.

The lCE says that schools should 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. “Nonimmigrant students within the US are not permitted to take a full course of study through online classes. If students find themselves in this situation, they must leave the country or take alternative steps to maintain their nonimmigrant status such as a reduced course load or appropriate medical leave,” it says.

The new rules might affect thousands of foreign students who come to the US to attend universities. They are a blow to many international students who will be forced to either leave the country or scramble to transfer to a new institute to keep their legal status. Some who exit the country could face hurdles in learning online, such as different time zones. 

Harvard University President Lawrence Bacow said that the university is “deeply concerned” that the guidance issued by ICE imposes a “blunt, one-size-fits-all approach to a complex problem,” giving international students, particularly those in online programs, few options beyond leaving the country or transferring schools. “This guidance undermines the thoughtful approach taken on behalf of students by so many institutions, including Harvard, to plan for continuing academic programs while balancing the health and safety challenges of the global pandemic,” says Bacow. He adds, “We will work closely with other colleges and universities around the country to chart a path forward. We must do all that we can to ensure that our students can continue their studies without fear of being forced to leave the country mid-way through the year, disrupting their academic progress and undermining the commitments — and sacrifices — that many of them have made to advance their education.” 

Harvard University says that the ICE guidance imposes a “blunt, one-size-fits-all approach to a complex problem,” giving international students, particularly those in online programs, few options beyond leaving the country or transferring schools. (Getty Images)

Many universities to conduct classes online

The move comes as universities across the US are looking at transitioning to online courses due to the pandemic. Harvard University, for example, has announced its plans to hold classes online during the fall and to bring up to 40% of undergraduates to campus. “After careful deliberation and informed by extensive input from our community, the Faculty of Arts and Sciences announced plans to bring up to 40% of our undergraduates to campus, including all first-year students, for the fall semester. Assuming that we maintain 40% density in the spring semester, we would again bring back one class, and our priority at this time is to bring seniors to campus. Under this plan, the first years would return home and learn remotely in the spring. We also will invite back to campus those students who may not be able to learn successfully in their current home learning environment,” says a statement from Harvard. 

The university said without a vaccine or effective clinical treatments for the virus, “we know that no choice that reopens the campus is without risk.” “That said, we have worked closely with leading epidemiologists and medical experts to define an approach that we believe will protect the health and safety of our community, while also protecting our academic enterprise and providing students with the conditions they need to be successful academically,” it adds.

Princeton University said it will be able to offer all of its undergraduate students at least one semester of on-campus education this academic year, but that the university will need to do much of their teaching online and remotely. “We will accordingly employ a model that invites to campus roughly half of Princeton’s undergraduates in each semester, and that offers every undergraduate who is able to return to campus the opportunity to be here for at least one semester. We will welcome the incoming class of 2024, as well as rising juniors, back to campus in August. In the spring term, we will welcome back our sophomores and our seniors in the graduating class of 2021,” announced the university. Since the university anticipates that most undergraduates will have the opportunity to study on campus only for one semester or less, they have decided to discount the university’s full-year undergraduate tuition by ten percent for this academic year. This discount will apply to all undergraduates, regardless of when or whether they are on campus. 

Princeton University said that it will need to do much of their teaching online and remotely.
(Getty Images)

Princeton also plans to accommodate a very limited number of other students whose special circumstances require them to be on campus in specific semesters. “In the fall term, this will include a small number of seniors, designated by their departments, whose thesis research must be done on campus, meets all Covid-related safety requirements, and has been approved by the relevant principal investigator or faculty adviser and the Dean for Research. We will also accommodate students who face housing insecurity, and new transfer students,” reads the statement.

The University of Southern California also announced that it is dropping plans to have undergraduate students back in the classroom and instead will offer most classes online.

Yale has decided to welcome graduate and professional school students and a portion of the undergraduate population back to campus for the fall semester. Nearly all Yale College courses will be taught remotely so that all undergraduate students can enroll, says the university. “Graduate and professional schools will offer different combinations of in-person and remote teaching. We also will continue our reactivation of on-site research and many other university operations with strict health precautions in place,” says the university.

For each semester in 2020-2021, three classes of Yale students will be in residence. “We encourage students who cannot return to campus to continue their Yale education remotely. For fall 2020, first-year students, juniors, and seniors will have the option to live in residential colleges and other campus housing. For spring 2021, sophomores, juniors, and seniors can choose to live on campus. This arrangement allows the university to decrease the undergraduate student population living in the colleges to about 60% of normal and lower the risk of spreading Covid-19,” it says.

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