• International college students taking online classes due to the coronavirus pandemic will no longer be allowed to stay in the US on a student visa, the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced on Monday.
  • According to ICE, foreigners on student visas were temporarily allowed to take online courses during the spring and summer semesters as US schools adapted to changes brought on by the novel coronavirus.
  • That policy, however, will no longer be in place come the fall 2020 semester, leaving international students to figure out how to continue their studies in person or risk losing their visas.
  • Several major US institutions, including Columbia, Harvard, and NYU, have embraced remote learning to tackle to spread of the virus.
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International college students taking online classes due to the coronavirus pandemic will no longer be allowed to stay in the US on a student visa, the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced on Monday.

In a statement, ICE said that nonimmigrant students attending schools that have switched to online courses cannot sign up for an entirely online course load and remain in the US.

“Nonimmigrant students within the United States are not permitted to take a full course of study through online classes,” the statement says. “If students find themselves in this situation, they must leave the country or take alternative steps to maintain their nonimmigrant status such as a reduced course load or appropriate medical leave.”

The US offers two types of student visas for foreign students – F-1, for most high school, college, and other academic programs, and M-1 for vocational or non-academic studies. In order to obtain a visa, international students must be accepted into a school approved by The Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP), a database used by the US Department of Homeland Security.

According to the ICE statement, SEVP issued a temporary exemption for foreign students to allow them to take online courses during the spring and summer semesters as schools adapted to changes brought on by the novel coronavirus.

“This policy permitted nonimmigrant students to take more online courses than normally permitted by federal regulation to maintain their nonimmigrant status during the COVID-19 emergency,” the statement says.

That policy, however, will no longer be in place come the fall 2020 semester, leaving international students to figure out how to continue their studies in person or risk losing their visas.

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“The US 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 US Customs and Border Protection permit these students to enter the United States,” the statement says. “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.”

Several major US institutions, including Columbia, Harvard, and NYU, have embraced remote learning to tackle to spread of the coronavirus. Some universities are operating entirely online, while others are offering a hybrid model. Some of these universities have also moved students out of their on-campus accommodation.

The president of the American Council on Education, Ted Mitchell, said in a statement on Monday that the new ICE guidance is “horrifying.”

“While we would welcome more clarity about international students studying in the United States, this guidance raises more questions than it answers and unfortunately does more harm than good,” Mitchell said.

“ICE should allow any international student with a valid visa to continue their education regardless of whether a student is receiving his or her education online, in person, or through a combination of both, whether in the United States or in their home country, during this unprecedented global health crisis,” he added.

According to Mitchell, about one million international students attend US colleges and universities annually, and “also yield an estimated economic impact of $41 billion.”

President Donald Trump has taken aim at temporary visa workers as unemployment rates in the US have skyrocketed over the past few months. Several industries, including travel, sport, and hospitality, have seen a significant downturn brought on by coronavirus restrictions.

In June, Trump signed an executive order to suspend H-1B work visas, claiming that nonimmigrant visa programs posed an “unusual threat” to American jobs during the pandemic.

“American workers compete against foreign nationals for jobs in every sector of our economy, including against millions of aliens who enter the United States to perform temporary work,” Trump said in his order.