Foreign Students Will Have To Leave U.S. If Their Classes Go Fully Online
Signage for Education USA is displayed on a wall at the United States-India Education Foundation (USIEF) in Mumbai, India. (Photographer: Dhiraj Singh/Bloomberg)

Foreign Students Will Have To Leave U.S. If Their Classes Go Fully Online

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The U.S. immigration authority has announced that foreign students will have to leave the country or risk deportation if their universities switch to online-only classes in the fall semester due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Indian students are likely to be severely hit by the move as they are the second largest foreign student community in the U.S. According to the Student and Exchange Visitor Programme, India sent 251,290 students to the U.S. in 2017 and 2018, second only to China that sent 478,732 students.

The U.S. Department of State will not issue visas to students enrolled in schools and/or programmes that are fully online for the fall semester, according to a statement issued Monday. The U.S. Customs and Border Protection permit these students to enter the United States, the release stated, referring to the September-December semester.

The agency suggested that students currently enrolled in the U.S. consider other measures, like transferring to schools with in-person instruction.

International students enrolled in academic programmes at American universities and colleges study on an F-1 visa. Those enrolled in technical courses at vocational or other recognised non-academic institutions—other than a language training programme—come to the U.S. on an M-1 visa.

Spelling out the criteria for international students to stay in the U.S., the ICE said that students attending schools operating under normal in-person classes are bound by existing federal regulations. Eligible F students may take a maximum of one class or three credit hours online, it said.

Non-immigrant F-1 students attending schools adopting a hybrid model—a mix of online and in-person classes—will be allowed to take more than one class or three credit hours online, it said.

These schools must certify to the Student and Exchange Visitor Programme that the course is not entirely online, that the student is not taking an entirely online course load for the fall 2020 semester, and that the student is taking the minimum number of online classes required to make normal progress in their degree programme.

The above exemptions do not apply to F-1 students in English language training or M-1 students pursuing vocational degrees, who are not permitted to enrol in any online courses, the ICE said.

The guidance is certain to cause severe anxiety and uncertainty for the hundreds of thousands of international students who are studying in the country and for those who were preparing to arrive in the US to begin their education when the new academic session begins in September.

Immigration, Travel Curbs

At 2.9 million, the U.S. has the highest number of coronavirus cases in the world. The pandemic has so far killed 130,000 Americans, according to Johns Hopkins University data.

International travel restrictions, in place due to the pandemic, have made it difficult for foreign students in the U.S. to return to their home countries, while those outside America are uncertain if they will be able to travel to join their courses in American colleges and universities.

The Trump administration has made a number of changes to the U.S. immigration system, citing the coronavirus pandemic.

On June 22, it issued a proclamation, dramatically curtailing legal immigration to the US till Dec. 31, 2020. Under this, people with L-1, H-1B, H-2B and J-1 visas were affected.

‘One Size, Fits All’

According to Harvard University President Larry Bacow, the new guidance imposed a "blunt, one-size-fits-all approach to a complex problem giving international students, particularly those in online programmes, few options beyond leaving the country or transferring schools".

The guidance "undermines the thoughtful approach taken on behalf of students by so many institutions, including Harvard, to plan for continuing academic programmes while balancing the health and safety challenges of the global pandemic".

"We will work closely with other colleges and universities around the country to chart a path forward," he said.

U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren tweeted that kicking international students out of the country during a global pandemic is “senseless, cruel, and xenophobic”.

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