International students pursuing degrees at US colleges and universities cannot remain in the country if they are enrolled in a fully online course load, according to a press release by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement on Monday.
The announcement comes as colleges across the country announce their plans for instruction to minimize the spread of coronavirus during the upcoming fall semester. Students enrolled in schools that are operating fully online will not be issued visas or allowed to enter the country, leaving them with the option to return home or transfer to schools with in-person instruction.
According to The Chronicle of Higher Education, 9 percent of colleges are planning for a fully online fall semester, 24 percent are proposing a hybrid model, and 60 percent are planning for an in-person fall semester.
“Active students currently in the United States 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,” ICE’s release said. “If not, they may face immigration consequences including, but not limited to, the initiation of removal proceedings.”
Kicking international students out of the US during a global pandemic because their colleges are moving classes online for physical distancing hurts students. It’s senseless, cruel, and xenophobic. @ICEgov and @DHSgov must drop this policy immediately. https://t.co/MHYduGA1Pk
— Elizabeth Warren (@SenWarren) July 7, 2020
The Student and Exchange Visitor Program, which is operated by ICE, allowed students to remain in the US for the 2020 spring and summer semesters after the pandemic began but announced Monday that this exemption would not extend into the upcoming academic year.
The decision came on the same day that Harvard University announced fully online instruction for the academic year for all undergraduate and graduate courses.
Harvard University President Larry Bacow said in a statement Monday evening that the guidance issued “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.”
Several professors and officials also expressed dissatisfaction with the decision, including Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren. In addition, Samantha Power, former US ambassador to the United Nations and Harvard professor, called the decision “needlessly cruel” in a tweet Monday.
So needlessly cruel: If enrolled at university w/ full online instruction, ICE will force international students already in the US to leave (unless they transfer to a school w in-person instruction). Makes no sense and unworkable for most college students. https://t.co/sh5l5F7LRC
— Samantha Power (@SamanthaJPower) July 6, 2020
Students taking a mix of online and in-person courses will be allowed to remain in the country if their school certifies that the student is not taking a fully online course load.
If students begin the fall semester with in-person instruction and are later required or opt to take online classes, they are required to update their information in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System within 10 days of the change, ICE said. In this case, students have the option of leaving the country or taking alternative measures to keep their nonimmigrant status, “such as a reduced course load or appropriate medical leave.”