Non-Immigrant F-1 and M-1 students in schools operating entirely online may not remain in the United States Photo: Getty Images

COVID-19: Foreign students may leave US if varsities switch to online-only learning

*Students currently in US seeking degrees under online-only programmes must ‘depart the country or take other measures to remain in lawful status’ ─ICE

*Harvard says ICE’s guidance undermines thoughtful approach taken to plan for continuing academic programmes amid pandemic

Isola Moses | ConsumerConnect

As part of the far-reaching implications of the novel Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) fast disrupting several economies across the globe, the United States (US) Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), under its new set of regulations has disclosed that international students studying in universities in the US may have to leave the country or face the possibility of deportation if their schools switch to “online-only” learning.

ConsumerConnect reports that the ICE in a statement Monday, July 6 said that the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) had announced modifications to temporary exemptions for non-immigrant students taking online classes due to the Coronavirus pandemic.

The changes apply to the upcoming fall 2020 semester, it was learnt.

ICE said in statement: “Non-Immigrant F-1 and M-1 students attending schools operating entirely online may not take a full online course load and remain in the United States.

“The U.S. 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 U.S. Customs and Border Protection permit these students to enter the United States.”

According to ICE, students currently in the U.S. seeking a degree under online-only programs must “depart the country or take other measures, such as transferring to a school with in-person instruction to remain in lawful status.”

However, the changes include an exemption for universities adopting a hybrid model, such as a mix of online and in-person classes, said the report.

But failure to comply with the new rule could lead to “immigration consequences,” including the risk of deportation, revealed the ICE.

A number of colleges and universities in the US have opted to transition to online-learning in the interest of preventing COVID-19 transmission among students and instructors.

The latest modification threatens to impact thousands of international students who come to the U.S. to pursue a degree or participate in non-academic or vocational studies.

The creates uncertainty for many students in the United States, as Theresa Cardinal Brown, Director of Immigration and Cross-border Policy at the Bipartisan Policy Center, in an interview with CNN, also said the rule change by the ICE could have particularly confusing implications for students whose countries have travel restrictions in place.

Brown said: “These are not some fly-by-night universities, these aren’t scams, these are legit universities who would normally have in-person curricula but for Coronavirus.

“The bigger issue is some of these countries have travel restrictions on and they can’t go home, so what do they do then? It’s a conundrum for a lot of students.”

Harvard University President Larry Bacow, in a statement Monday, also said officials at the school are “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.”

Bacow stated that the ICE 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.”