Foreign students won’t be able to stay in the United States if their universities decide to entirely rely on remote learning, according to new plans released by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) on Monday.
Foreigners are usually required to take no more than one class or three credit hours online for each semester, otherwise they would risk having their student visa denied or revoked. The Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP), an ICE program that oversees foreign nationals on F and M visas, temporarily suspended this policy, allowing foreign students to take more online courses than “normally permitted by federal regulation” while keeping their non-immigrant status throughout spring and summer, as institutions across the country shifted to online education due to the pandemic.
But for the upcoming fall semester, the SEVP said the temporary exemption is going to be modified. It means that if a foreign student’s college moves its courses entirely online, the State Department will not issue the visa to the student, nor will Customs and Border Protection allow the student to enter the United States.
Students currently in the United States enrolled in the online schooling described above will have to leave the country, or take other measures to retain their student status, such as transferring to a school that offers in-person instruction.
“If not, they may face immigration consequences including, but not limited to, the initiation of removal proceedings,” the SEVP said.
The new plans also require that non-immigrant foreign students attending schools operating under normal in-person classes be bound by existing federal regulations, meaning that they won’t be allowed to take more than one class online. Those attending schools that offer a hybrid of online and in-person classes, however, can still take more than one class online.
Schools operating with a hybrid program will need to certify to 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.
“Under the rule ICE announced today, schools like Harvard wouldn’t lose tuition from students forced to leave the United States,” Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, policy counsel at the American Immigration Council, wrote on Twitter. Harvard University announced on Monday that the entire 2020-21 academic year will be delivered online.
“Students could ‘attend’ classes virtually—in their home country,” Reichlin-Melnick wrote. “But if the choice is stay at Harvard or leave the US…many will choose to transfer.”