As universities announce their plans for the upcoming semester, international students may have to leave the US or risk deportation if their universities switch to online-only classes. The announcement last week by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) may affect thousands of students across the US.
Just as ICE made the decision, Harvard and Princeton announced plans for online-only courses for fall semester. Under ICE’s new guidelines, international students at those schools will have to leave the country or transfer to schools offering in-person classes in order to continue their education in this country.
Now, 17 states have filed a lawsuit against the policy and claim they will suffer “irrepearable harm” if the rule isn’t vacated. The states taking action include: Massachusetts, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, and Wisconsin.
International Students and Online Classes
Here’s how the new policy works. The US Department of State will not issue any visas to students enrolled in schools that are online-only this fall. Students also won’t be allowed to enter the US under the new guidelines.
College students holding certain visas can remain in the US if they don’t take a full online course load. For students attending a college that is offering both online and in-person classes, they cannot take more than one class or three credit hours online.
The announcement also addressed the possibility of colleges offering in-person classes being forced to switch to online-only during the semester. In the case that this happens and international students have to take online-only courses, they must leave the country or reduce their course load to follow guidelines.
While visa requirements prohibited students coming to the US just for online-only classes pre-coronavirus, officials are questioning the guidelines in light of the pandemic.
“These are not some fly-by-night universities, these aren’t scams, these are legit universities who would normally have in-person curricula but for coronavirus,” said Theresa Cardinal Brown, director of immigration and cross-border policy at the Bipartisan Policy Center, CNN reports.
“The bigger issue is some of these countries have travel restrictions on and they can’t go home, so what do they do then?” Brown continued. “It’s a conundrum for a lot of students.”
In a statement addressing the new ICE guidelines, Harvard University President Larry Bacow expressed his concerns. He wrote that the ICE announcement “imposes a blunt, one-size-fits-all approach to a complex problem giving international students, particularly those in online programs, few options beyond leaving the country or transferring schools.”
In the new lawsuit, the states “claim that the rule imposes large financial and administrative burdens on colleges and universities,” according to The Verge. Schools would need to refigure plans for the fall semester to keep international students enrolled under the new guidelines. They would also lose out on revenue from international students, who pay out-of-station tuition and do not receive financial aid.