THE Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has announced that international students pursuing a course or degree in the US will have to leave the country if their university switches to an online course only from next term, or risk deportation.
In a press statement on Monday, ICE said that international students “may not take a full online course load and remain in the US.” It added that the “US Department of State will not issue visas to students enrolled in schools and/or programmes that are fully online in the autumn, nor will the “US Customs and Border Protection permit these students to enter the United States.”
Students potentially affected by the change in ruling are those on an F-1 visa (for those pursuing academic coursework) or the M-1 visa (for students pursuing vocational coursework) in the US.
ICE delivered the guidance to universities the same day that some, such as Harvard University, announced that all course instruction will be provided remotely, including for those living on campus. This means that international students at this university would have to leave the US.
ICE suggests that international students consider other schools that deliver face to face classes, or a mix of online and face-to-face classes. The latest move could potentially affect thousands of foreign students studying at a US university, or participating in training programmes. It also potentially puts many students in a difficult situation, particularly if they can’t go home because of travel restrictions due to Covid-19.
The new guidance is likely to create “enormous confusion” among colleges as they prepare for the autumn, according to Terry Hartle, the Senior Vice President of the American Council on Education, which represents university presidents. “ICE is clearly creating an incentive for institutions to reopen, regardless of whether or not the circumstances of the pandemic warrant it,” commented Hartle. US President Donald Trump has also insisted that schools and universities reopen this autumn and they must “return to in-person instruction as soon as possible.”