US Plans to Deport International Students Who Only Have Online Classes

For one, Harvard University — which announced no change in tuition fees — will run a fully online semester.

online classes

International students enrolled at U.S. institutions that will hold classes solely online this fall are at risk of being deported, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) said on Monday.

The regulation primarily applies to nonimmigrant F-1 students, who pursue academic coursework, and M-1 students, who pursue vocational coursework.

What’s happening: Enforced by the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) — part of the National Security Investigations Division (NSID) of the ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) — the rule is a modification in current temporary exceptions for nonimmigrant students taking online classes due to COVID-19 in fall 2020.

  • According to the SEVP, nonimmigrant F-1 and M-1 students attending schools operating entirely online may not take a full online course load and stay in the country.
  • Students enrolled in such programs must leave the U.S. or find other solutions, such as transferring to other schools that hold in-person classes.
  • If the students fail to take necessary actions, “they may face immigration consequences including, but not limited to, the initiation of removal proceedings,” SEVP officials warned.
  • F-1 students enrolled at schools running both online and in-person classes can take more than one class or three credit hours online, but their institutions must certify to the SEVP “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 rule does not apply to F-1 students in English language training programs or M-1 students of vocational degrees, who are not permitted to enroll in online courses.
  • Schools beginning the fall semester with in-person classes but are later required to switch online must update their information in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) within 10 days of the change.

Why this matters: The students — and perhaps their schools — have less than two months to take measures to avoid deportation proceedings.

  • The SEVP initially posted the temporary exceptions regarding online courses for the spring and summer semesters due to COVID-19, allowing nonimmigrant students to take more online courses than normally permitted to maintain their status.
  • The change in the regulation is expected to force students to leave the country or scramble for new schools to transfer to.
  • Those who choose to leave the country may face learning hurdles such as varying time zones, poor internet connection and the unavailability of certain online resources, such as G-Suite in China.
  • The SEVP said students can take alternative steps such as a reduced course load or “appropriate medical leave,” but requirements for these measures are relatively difficult to satisfy.
  • “[This is] just so unnecessarily evil,” author Shea Serrano commented on the matter. “There’s no reason at all for this. Abolish ICE.”
  • Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, a policy counsel at the American Immigration Council, believes the issue is headed to court: “This is almost certainly going to be challenged in court. I can’t give anyone specific legal advice on their cases (especially because I am not an expert on student visas), but I wouldn’t encourage anyone to book a flight ‘home’ this exact moment. Lawsuits are inevitable.”

Foreign students make up about 5.5% of the higher education population in the U.S. — a total of 1,095,299 in the 2018-2019 academic year. Receiving little to no financial aid, they contributed $44.7 billion to the U.S. economy in 2018, according to the nonprofit Institute of International Education (IIE).

Feature Image via Getty

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