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What the US Immigration’s New Guidelines for International Students Really Means



CAMBRIDGE, MASSACHUSETTS – APRIL 22: A general view of Harvard University campus is seen on April 22, 2020 in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Harvard has fallen under criticism after saying it would keep the $8.6 million in stimulus funding the university received from the CARES Act Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund in response to the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

In order for international students in the United States of America to remain in the country for fall 2020 (mid-August) semester, they must take in-person classes at their schools. Students who remain in the country but take entirely online courses may face “immigration consequences including, but not limited to, the initiation of removal proceedings”, the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has said.

“There will still be accommodations to provide flexibility to schools and nonimmigrant students, but as many institutions across the country reopen, there is a concordant need to resume the carefully balanced protections implemented by federal regulations”.

This applies to holders of F-1 and M-1 nonimmigrant visas, which allows nonimmigrant students to pursue academic and vocational coursework, respectively. This is really huge news because international students actually make up a significant percentage (1 million students, according to NPR) of the student population in the US, not to talk about the fact that international students pay the extra fees like the SEVIS.

During the 2018-19 session, international students alone, according to NPR, contributed $41 billion and supported 458,290 jobs.

This new regulation is one of the multiple actions the Trump administration has taken to restrict immigration in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

This means:

  • International students on non-immigrant F-1 and M-1 visas cannot remain in the U.S. or legally enter the U.S. if their studies are entirely online.

  • Students whose schools are online-only should “[transfer] to a school with in-person instruction to remain in lawful status.”

  • Students at schools offering a mixture of in-person and online learning will be permitted to take some online courses and remain in the country, though the school must certify “that the student is not taking an entirely online course load this semester.”

  • Students who remain in the U.S. while taking only online courses may face “immigration consequences” including “the initiation of removal proceedings.

  • It also means that international students with health and safety concerns will still have to take at least some in-person classes in order to maintain visa status if their college is offering hybrid instruction.

  • The rule will also apply to students whose course loads change mid-semester, with ICE noting that students who change course selections or are required to switch to online-only learning must notify the agency within 10 days.

  • It will unnecessarily force thousands to travel to many locations around the world. Some returing to locations with poor data connection which will distrupt learning.

While the US is working on deporting international students because courses are moving online, Canada confirmed international students who couldn’t make it to Canada due to COVID-19 will still get a Post Graduate Work Permit even if courses are completed online.

Schools like Harvard and Princeton have shared that students will take only online classes in the coming fall session. What this means for the millions of students who will be affected by the move, we’ll have to wait and see. But, no doubt, several lives will be affected by this.

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