Foreign students attending U.S. colleges that will operate entirely online this fall semester cannot remain in the country to do so, according to new regulations released Monday by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
As college students across the United States and around the world contemplate what their upcoming semester might look like, 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.
“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 ICE’s Student and Exchange Visitor Program. “If not, they may face immigration consequences including, but not limited to, the initiation of removal proceedings.”
The announcement states:
Temporary exemptions for the fall 2020 semester include:
- Nonimmigrant 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. 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. If not, they may face immigration consequences including, but not limited to, the initiation of removal proceedings.
- Nonimmigrant F-1 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.
- Nonimmigrant F-1 students attending schools adopting a hybrid model—that is, a mixture of online and in person classes—will be allowed to take more than one class or three credit hours online. These schools must certify to SEVP, through the Form I-20, “Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status,” certifying that the program is not entirely online, that the student is not taking an entirely online course load this semester, and that the student is taking the minimum number of online classes required to make normal progress in their degree program. The above exemptions do not apply to F-1 students in English language training programs or M-1 students pursing vocational degrees, who are not permitted to enroll in any online courses.
The agency said students already in the country and faced with a fully online course of study may take alternative measures to maintain their nonimmigrant status, “such as a reduced course load or appropriate medical leave.”
The rule applies to holders of F-1 and M-1 nonimmigrant visas, which allow nonimmigrant students to pursue academic and vocational coursework, respectively.
More than 1 million of the country’s higher education students come from overseas, according to the nonprofit Institute of International Education.
According to an economic analysis by NAFSA: Association of International Educators, international students studying at U.S. colleges and universities contributed $41 billion and supported 458,290 jobs during the 2018-2019 academic year.
The announcement comes as higher education institutions are releasing frameworks for reopening in the fall semester. Schools are preparing to offer in-person instruction, online classes or a mix of both.
Eight percent of colleges are planning to operate online, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education, which is tracking the reopening plans of more than 1,000 U.S. colleges. Sixty percent are planning for in-person instruction, and 23% are proposing a hybrid model, with a combined 8.5% undecided or considering a range of scenarios.
Harvard University is one of the latest institutions to unveil its plans, announcing on Monday that all undergraduate and graduate course instruction for the academic year will be held online. Nevertheless, the university plans to bring 40% of undergraduates, including all freshmen, onto campus.