US immigration authorities said on Monday that foreign students attending U.S. colleges that will operate entirely online this fall semester cannot remain in the country.
“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,” read a release from US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
“If not, they may face immigration consequences including, but not limited to, the initiation of removal proceedings.”
American students studying in Europe were similarly forced to return home this past Spring when the lockdowns in those countries began to take effect.
The federal guidance limits options for international students and leaves them with an uncomfortable choice: attend in-person classes during a pandemic or take them online from another country.
And for students enrolled in schools that have already announced plans to operate fully online, there is no choice. Under the new rules, the State Department will not issue them visas, and U.S. Customs and Border Protection will not allow them to enter the country.
Ted Mitchell, the president of the American Council on Education, a membership organization for US colleges and universities, said the immigration guidance for students was “horrifying”, and that more clarity was needed.
“At a time when institutions are doing everything they can to help reopen our country, we need flexibility, not a big step in the wrong direction. ICE should allow any international student with a valid visa to continue their education regardless of whether a student is receiving his or her education online, in person, or through a combination of both,” he said.
“Iron-clad federal rules are not the answer at this time of great uncertainty,” he added.
According to the Institute of International Education, there were nearly 1.1 million international students in the US in the 2018-19 academic year, making up 5.5 per cent of the higher education population.