In a significant development on July 6th, the United States announced measures that could force international students to leave the country if their educational institutions opt for online classes in the upcoming fall semester due to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. This decision, made under the administration of Donald Trump, has raised concerns and posed challenges for the diverse community of non-immigrant F-1 and M-1 students studying in the U.S.
The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) declared that non-immigrant F-1 and M-1 students attending schools offering entirely online courses will not be permitted to maintain their status within the country. According to ICE, these students must either shift to institutions with in-person classes or face the requirement to leave the United States.
Key Impacts of the Policy:
- Restrictions on Online Learning: Non-immigrant F-1 and M-1 students enrolled in schools with fully online classes are prohibited from taking a full online course load and remaining in the U.S.
- Visa Issuance and Entry Barriers: The U.S. will not issue visas to students whose colleges move to fully online courses, and the Customs and Border Protection will prevent their entry into the country.
- Potential Immigration Consequences: International students in online programs may need to leave the country or take alternative measures, such as transferring to institutions offering in-person instruction, to avoid potential immigration consequences.
- Federal Regulations for In-person Classes: F-1 students in schools conducting in-person classes must adhere to existing federal regulations, allowing them to take a maximum of one online class or 3 credit hours.
- Hybrid Model Exemptions: Students in schools following a hybrid model (a combination of in-person and online classes) can take more than one online class, provided the program is not entirely online and the student meets specific criteria.
- Exemptions Exclusions: M-1 students pursuing vocational degrees and F-1 students in English language training programs are not eligible for exemptions and cannot take any online courses.
As colleges and universities in the U.S. navigate the uncertainties of the fall semester, international students are left in a state of limbo, awaiting updates on their institutions’ plans. The Institute of International Education (IIE) reported that in the 2018-19 academic year, over one million international students contributed significantly to the U.S. higher education landscape, constituting 5.5% of the total student population and contributing $44.7 billion to the U.S. economy.
This recent policy announcement, coupled with the temporary suspension of H1B visas, adds to the challenges faced by international students and employees alike. As the situation evolves, it is crucial for students and educational institutions to stay informed and adapt to these changing circumstances.
In light of the evolving landscape, international students are encouraged to stay updated on their institutions’ plans, explore available alternatives, and consider potential impacts on their academic journey and immigration status. The coming months will undoubtedly present new challenges, but resilience and adaptability will be key for the international student community in the United States.