US may ask foreign students to leave if varsities switch to online teaching

Immigrant advocates and experts say the administration is taking advantage of the pandemic to make sweeping immigration changes and advance its agenda to slash legal immigration.

Washington: Foreign students pursuing degrees in the United States may face deportation if their universities switch to online-only courses, Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced Monday.

Universities nationwide are beginning to make the decision to transition to online courses as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. The move may affect thousands of foreign students.

At Harvard, for example, all course instruction will be delivered online. Thus opening doors for International students to leave the US.

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“There’s so much uncertainty. It’s very frustrating,” said Valeria Mendiola, 26, a graduate student at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.

ICE on Monday said that students who fall under certain visas may not take a full online course load and remain in the United States. The U.S. 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 U.S. Customs and Border Protection permit these students to enter the United States.

The agency suggested that students currently enrolled in the US consider other measures, like transferring to schools with in-person instruction. There’s an exception for universities using a hybrid model, such as a mix of online and in-person classes.

Brad Farnsworth, vice president of the American Council on Education, said :”We think this is going to create more confusion and more uncertainty,” said Farnsworth, whose organization represents about 1,800 colleges and universities.

“What we were hoping to see was more appreciation for all the different possible nuances that campuses will be exploring. One concern with the new guidance,” Farnsworth said.

Visa requirements for students have always been strict and coming to the US to take online-only courses has been prohibited.”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. 

“The bigger issue is some of these countries have travel restrictions on and they can’t go home, so what do they do then?” she added. “It’s a conundrum for a lot of students.

“We are deeply concerned that the guidance issued today by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement 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,” said Harvard University President Larry Bacow on Monday.

“The guidance undermines the thoughtful approach taken on behalf of students by so many institutions, including Harvard, to plan for continuing academic programs while balancing the health and safety challenges of the global pandemic,” Bacow added.

“We will work closely with other colleges and universities around the country to chart a path forward,” he said. Citing the coronavirus pandemic, the Trump administration has made a litany of changes to the US immigration system.

Last month, the White House issued statement curtailing legal immigration to the US sending hundreds of people and businesses into a scramble. In the proclamation, the administration argued that the extraordinary circumstances posed by coronavirus called for the suspension of employment-based visas.

But immigrant advocates, industries and experts say the administration is taking advantage of the pandemic to make sweeping immigration changes and advance its agenda to slash legal immigration.

According to the Migration Policy Institute, a think tank based in Washington, DC, about 1.2 million students who fall under the affected visas were enrolled and registered at more than 8,700 schools nationwide as of March 2018.

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